Have you ever heard of water coming out of thin air? Well, I am not talking about a magic show rather about a newly discovered phenomenon. We know that water is present in the air in the form of vapors which we call as humidity, but what if I tell you there might be a way convert that vapor into actual liquid water. It was a eureka moment for the scientists when the discovered this phenomenon, more so over because this is not what they had set out to do! It was discovered by accident while performing another experiment which did not go as it was planned and voila!
This phenomenon was witnessed by chemistry scientist Satish Nune and chief scientist David Heldebrant of the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) while conducting experiments with carbon-rich nanorods — nanorods are one morphology of nanoscale objects. Each of their dimensions range from 1–100 nm. They all saw that the weight of the nanorods they were working with seemed to be decreasing with increasing humidity. They attributed this to sponge-like behavior! Unlike other materials that take up more water with an increase in the humidity (till about 50% – 80% relative humidity) in their surrounding, this specific carbon-rich nanorod to their surprise started expelling water. With this, they have been able to actually see the two-decade-old theory explaining the phenomenon.
This phenomenon was very shocking to the scientists-duo but they have come to realize that this might prove to be very useful in our lives. This could help end the water crisis in various places across the world and be especially useful in deserts to harvest water out of thin air like magic !
Notably, Satish, an alumnus of India’s University Hyderabad, and David Heldebrant are corresponding authors on a Nature Nanotechnology paper that describes the first experimental viewing of a phenomenon called “solvent cavitation under solvo-phobic confinement.”
The Video below recorded under the microscope is shaky at the beginning shows the first experimental viewing of a phenomenon called “solvent cavitation under solvo-phobic confinement,” as they quickly moved the view finder to capture the surprising event again.
The findings and their potential future uses are laid out in a paper in the latest issue of the journal Nature Nanotechnology. Possible uses include systems that could literally harvest drinking water from thin air in deserts and under-served areas. We can also imagine fabrics that are essentially self-wringing when they get wet by spontaneously releasing liquids into the air as a vapour.
Another aspect of this might be in making the materials worn during adventure sports more efficient and comfortable. Though this is in a very nascent stage, but with time we can sure find lots of applications this phenomenon. This seems to have a great deal of potential for the future and might lead to something really big!