Roll Over, Paper Towels

Engineers’ Picker-Upper Is Even Quicker

It’s paper towels to the rescue for soda spills and tomato sauce splatters, while gauze often soaks up blood in the operating room. Now, UMD engineers have elevated the cleanup game using a hydrogel that takes the familiar form of a dry, foldable sheet—but absorbs three times more liquid.

The method, which the team presented in the journal Matter, may one day find a home in kitchens, bathrooms or medical settings. Unlike typical hydrogels, which are made of a web of large molecules known as polymer that soak up more than 100 times their weight in water, the new material stays flexible, rather than crumbly, when dry. “We reimagined what a hydrogel can look like,” says Srinivasa Raghavan, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

The gel sheet soaked up nearly an ounce of spilled water, drip-free, within 20 seconds, while even a cloth pad only absorbed about 60% of that amount and left drips. The hydrogel saved the day with thick liquids as well—syrup, blood and even test fluids a million times more viscous than water.


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