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Will Nanoparticles Give Us Cleaner Drinking Water and Soil in the Future?

When introduced to contaminated water and soil, the nanoparticles bound to specific chemicals, such as pesticides. (Image: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)
When introduced to contaminated water and soil, the nanoparticles bound to specific chemicals, such as pesticides. (Image: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)

Researchers are always looking for new ways to make cleaner water and soil. Now, by using ultraviolet (UV) light on a solution of nanoparticles, they have discovered a novel way to make clean drinking water and safer soil more accessible.

By using these nanoparticles in soil and water, scientists found they could use them for other applications. The nanoparticles are made of the same biodegradable polymers that are used mostly for drug delivery. The research was conducted by scientists at the University of Regensburg in Germany, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S. The findings were published in Nature Communications.

According to IFL Science, nanoparticles have been used in environmental clean-ups before, but previous methods have required very strong magnets, and toxic by-products were also impossible to avoid. By using UV light instead, these researchers have demonstrated a cheaper, simpler, and cleaner method that has wider applications.

photo credit: This artist's impression shows how nanoparticles were made to bind to contaminants in water and soil, making them easy to remove. Nicolas Bertrand.

An artist’s impression showing how nanoparticles were made to bind to contaminants in water and soil, making them easy to remove. (Image: Nicolas Bertrand)

When introduced to contaminated water and soil, the nanoparticles bound to specific chemicals, such as pesticides.

By shining UV light on them, they would then clump together into microscopic lumps of the contaminants, which could be easily removed. As a consequence, the nanoparticles were also removed in the lumps, meaning no toxic by-products were left behind. This is something that has not been done before.

“We can remove the particles with UV light, we don’t need magnets, and we don’t have toxic material in the environment after use,” lead author Ferdinand Brandl of the University of Regensburg told IFL Science. To test the toxicity of the water and prove it was safe, the researchers used zebrafish embryos, with only those in the nanoparticle-treated water surviving.

Brandl had also said that even though they didn’t drink the water, by using this method it “would be possible” to make cleaner water. “That’s what we had in mind when we thought about the application in the first place,” he said. Soil could also be decontaminated, in theory, he added.

It will be interesting to see if there are any further developments in the future.

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