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NTHU Research Team was selected by Google Solve for X(SFX)
The Solve for X (SFX) think tank has recently inducted the “magic sponge” designed by a NTHU research team headed by Professor Tai Nyan-hwa of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Launched by Google in 2012, SFX serves as a platform to promote innovative technologies which have potential to solve major problems facing the world. The magic sponge is the first “moonshot” technology developed in Taiwan to be uploaded by the project.
Consisting of commercial sponge evenly coated with graphene, this magic sponge absorbs oil but not water and is designed to clean up oil spills on the open seas. When the sponge contacts an oil-water mixture, the hydrophobic and lipophilic properties of graphene coupled with the capillary structure of the sponge base, results in the oil being instantly sucked into the sponge, but not the water. The magic sponge is reusable and can absorb oil amounting to more than 90 times its own weight, and can absorb chloroform amounting to more than 160 times its own weight.
Moreover, the magic sponge is not expensive. According to Professor Tai Nyan-Hua’s estimation, using his current laboratory equipment to produce the magic sponge, the cost would be between NT$20 and NT$30 for each sponge measuring 30 x 10 x 1 cm, but could be mass produced for even less. Thus the magic sponge is expected to become a highly efficient, low-cost way to clean up oil spills and similar types of marine pollution.
The first author of the magic sponge project, a Vietnamese postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Nguyen Duc Dung says that he initially proposed this idea while he was a doctoral student and feels honored that it has been picked up by SFX. Prof. Tai points out that the technology itself is quite simple, so the main challenge is to develop it into a viable product for solving one the world's most serious environmental problems.
The Industrial Economics and Knowledge Center (IEK) of Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) promotes cooperation between industry, government, academia, and researchers, and severs as SFX’s local partner. According to IEK, Taiwan currently has two innovative proposals uploaded by SFX, demonstrating the nation’s world-class abilities in research and development.
The mission of SFX is to promote and launch innovative yet simple solutions to pressing issues facing the entire planet. Projects currently being developed by SFX include Google Glass and the Self-Driving Car. New proposals are evaluated according to three criteria: they address a serious and important problem, the solution of which will affect millions, even billions of people's lives; they propose a radical solution to the problem; and they apply existing breakthrough technology and thus have high potential for providing an effective and timely solution.
Professor Tai Nyan-hwa (third from left) with his research team, including first author of the magic sponge project, Dr. Nguyen Duc Dung (right).

Professor Tai Nyan-hwa (third from left) with his research team, including first author of the magic sponge project, Dr. Nguyen Duc Dung (right).


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