skip to main content

Science Nation: Osorb--Absorbent Nanomaterial Cleans Up Toxic Water

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation

[explosion]

(Describer) A clear liquid is stirred in a beaker.

(male narrator) It wasn't a mistake, more like a fortunate, if unexpected, discovery. At the College of Wooster, chemist Paul Edmiston was experimenting with glass nanomaterials, trying to develop better ways to detect explosives at airports. But instead, he discovered a material now called Osorb, a sponge-like substance that soaks up oil and other contaminants from water.

(Edmiston) The discovery of Osorb is serendipitous. It came from basic science research in looking at glasses that would bind explosive vapors.

(Describer) A large chamber is turned.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, Edmiston and colleagues at ABS Materials in Wooster, Ohio, are developing water remediation technologies for cities and industries. Osorb is one of their principle products. We start with molecules of glass.

(Describer) He opens a jar.

(narrator) To make a batch, start with some of that glass, add water and a pinch of a catalyst.

(Edmiston) Nanoparticles in here will connect up so much that they lock together, and it becomes hard.

(Describer) The contents don't move.

We dry it out, and when it comes in contact with a contaminant, it'll swell up to its original form.

(narrator) Filter out the toxins and Osorb, and that water is safe to drink.

(Describer) He drinks some.

ABS cofounder Stephen Spoonamore sees a huge need for products like Osorb that can easily clean up large quantities of water contaminated by agricultural runoff, oil drilling, and other industrial processes. When you manufacture chips, when you manufacture electronics or chemicals, you need a lot of water, it becomes contaminated with volatiles, and we can get those volatiles out of the water.

(narrator) The Osorb is manufactured in these reactor tubes with different recipes to tackle hydrocarbons, pesticides, and other contaminants. While oil disasters like the Deepwater Horizon spill make the headlines, Edmiston says Osorb can also clean water that comes out of oil wells.

(Edmiston) And managing that water, which is going to contain hydrocarbons, is a challenge for society. That's where Osorb fits in very well.

(narrator) With Osorb, it's always a "glass half full" approach to clean water.

(Describer) A globe turns.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

Transcript Options


Now Playing As: Captioned (English) (change)

Report a Problem

Chemist Paul Edmiston’s search for a new way to detect explosives at airports led to the creation Osorb. A swellable, organically-modified silica, or glass, capable of absorbing oil and other contaminants from water. Osorb has become the principal product of a company called ABSMaterials, where Edmiston is now chief scientist. With support from the National Science Foundation, Edmiston and his colleagues at ABSMaterials are developing water remediation technologies for cities and industries. ABSMaterials is creating formulas to address various contaminants, including hydrocarbons, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, chlorinated solvents, and endocrine disruptors. Part of the National Science Foundation Series “Science Nation.”

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12