A pair of California engineers are trying to clean the ocean, one swim at a time. Mihri and Cengiz Ozkan, both professors at the University of California Riverside, have developed a concept bikini called Spongesuit that leaches oily pollution out of water (see the material in action in this video).
Four years in development, the Sponge material is made from heated sugar. Due to its extremely porous structure, it repels water, but absorbs oils, making it a perfect way to soak up contamination in lakes and oceans. Built into a 3D-printed elastic bathing suit, which the Ozkans created with the architecture and design firm Eray Carbajo, Sponge would ensure that your immediate liquid surroundings were slightly cleaner than when you entered the water. “There are a lot of [biological oils] inside the ocean coming from other swimmers and animals,” Mihri Ozkan explains to mental_floss in an email. “Even one person can make a difference, this is the idea. "
Image Credit: Spongesuit via Reshape
Don’t worry: The Spongesuit won't fill up with pollution on your first swim, should it ever move beyond the concept phase. The material can absorb 25 times its own weight in oil. When it’s heated up to 1000°C, it releases its absorbed gunk. The material can be re-used up to 20 times, provided you are able to heat it—to achieve those kinds of temperatures, you'd likely have to send it to some kind of lab. You can swap out your old Sponge pad in the bathing suit for a fresh one, kind of like sticking a new water filter in your Brita.
The suit won this year’s Reshape15 design competition for wearable technology, but, considering the fact that most people probably avoid swimming in super-polluted water, it could be more useful outside of the fashion world. The Ozkans originally envisioned the material not as a bathing suit, but as a way to clean up large-scale oil spills in the ocean. They say that it could also be incorporated into paint to protect airplanes and satellites from moisture. And given that there's more water pollution in the world than a horde of swimmers in tiny bikinis could possibly clean up, giant tarps of Sponge material might be more useful.