A Refreshing Swim

The “Sponge Suit” rids the oceans of contaminants.

October 15, 2015

Courtesy of Eray Carbajo

It was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, toxin-absorbing bikini. 2...3....4...Stick around, we’ll tell you more.

Engineers from the University of California, Riverside have devised a way to clean the ocean as you swim. "Sponge," a highly porous, reusable material derived from heated sucrose, repels water while collecting contaminants. And it can absorb up to 25 times its own weight! (Strong swimmers only, please.) The research team had been seeking a cost-effective way to desalinize water and clean up oil and chemical spills when design firm Eray Carbajo came along and figured out how to incorporate the material into a wearable swimsuit. Thus, the Sponge Suit was born. The 3-D printed bikini recently took home first prize at the Reshape 15 Wearable Technology Competition. (Don’t worry, Sponge doesn’t release the contaminants unless it’s heated to 1,000 degrees Celsius—until then, they’re trapped in the inner pores of the material, never touching the skin.)

Sponge can be reused 20 times without losing its absorbancy, and the pads can then be recycled and replaced. The bikini is obviously a little too skimpy to tackle our massive ocean pollution problems, but the technology itself has the potential to make a big splash. And who knows? Perhaps a larger, pollutant-sucking Victorian “bathing dress” will come into vogue.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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