Skip navigation

Check the dictionary for the definition of versatile. You won’t find “cotton” there, and that’s a shame.

Here are just some of the products that come from this worthy plant: textile and yarn goods, automobile tire cord, plastic reinforcing, fertilizer, fuel and packing, pressed paper and cardboard. As if that weren’t enough, there’s cottonseed oil for salads and cooking, margarine and other shortenings and even cosmetics. And don’t forget
soap, candles, detergents, artificial leather, oilcloth and many other commodities.

So with this knowledge, it should come as no great surprise that there may well be yet another use for cotton, one on a rather grand scale. In the wake of such disasters as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists have discovered that unprocessed, raw cotton may be an excellent, environmentally friendly product to absorb large quantities of oil.

Reporting in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research,
Seshadri Ramkumar and colleagues say that their research was motivated by a need to find materials to soak up oil from spills that are relatively cheap, biodegradable and sustainable. While there had been in-depth research on wool, barley straw and kapok, little has been published about the absorbing levels of raw cotton, they said.

So what did they find? Each pound of cotton absorbed and retained up to 30 pounds of crude oil, a significant amount for cleanup activities. And not only did it sop up the crude, but the oil also stuck to the outside of the cotton. In addition to having great absorbing power, the raw cotton is environmentally friendly, another advantage when compared to synthetic materials that soak up spills, the team said.

With concerns over oil spills and their effect on the environment, do you think such a finding will be on a fast track to the marketplace?

“Crude Oil Sorption by Raw Cotton”


*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing







Click here
for high-resolution image.

Credit: Texas Tech University


Follow us: Twitter, Facebook

For many types of surgery or for a bad cut on the skin, stitches are just fine. They bring the tissues together and speed up the healing process. But for some types of surgeries, you really need something better—something that will form a leak-proof, tight seal.


This is especially important for intestinal surgeries. The intestines are where your food goes after the stomach. The small intestine is about 20 feet long, and most of your digestion happens here. It also absorbs lots of nutrients. The left-over stuff that isn’t digested goes from the small intestine to the large intestine, a.k.a. the “colon” or “bowel.” A little more digestion and nutrientt absorption happens here, but mostly, wastes are packaged for later evacuation, if you will.


It’s not a pretty picture, but these body parts are necessary for extracting every last bit of goodness from our food.


It’s also not pretty, though, if there’s a tear and the stuff in the intestines leaks out. In fact, it can be very harmful. Leaks can cause extremely painful and life-threatening abdominal infections. Surgery is necessary to repair the damage, but regular stitches just don’t cut it.


That’s why surgeons perform “laser tissue welding” (LTW) in these types of cases. LTW is a surgical method for connecting and sealing blood vessels, cartilage in joints, the liver, the urinary tract and other tissues. It involves the use of laser light to heat tissue, causing changes that enable the sides of incisions to seal. LTW has advantages over sutures or staples, such as a shorter operation time and reduced scarring. However, it forms weak seals that can be a special problem in intestinal surgery.


In a recent issue of ACS Nano, researchers report that they’ve developed a new material that acts like a “solder” for LTW. It’s kind of like the metal-based solder that people use to seal together metal pieces.


This particular solder is called a plasmonic nanocomposite. It has tiny gold nanorods in it that are so small that that 100,000 could fit in the period at the end of this sentence. The gold nanorods are wrapped inside a material that makes it more elastic so it can move with the


They found that when the material was used as a light-activated solder for laser-welding cuts in pig intestines, it formed a strong, “liquid-tight” but elastic seal, preventing bacteria from leaking out. “Taken together, these plasmonic nanocomposites are exciting materials for laser-based tissue repair,” say the researchers. The researchers plan to investigate these materials in animals with intestinal injury.


“Laser Welding of Ruptured Intestinal Tissue Using Plasmonic Polypeptide Nanocomposite Solders”



*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing




Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock 


Follow us: Twitter, Facebook

Ah, nothing like heading out to the beach in the summer. The warm sun on your skin, the hot sand between your toes, the waves crashing around you.


Unfortunately, the water isn’t always as pristine as it seems at first glance. Sewage overflow from nearby treatment plants can contaminate oceans and lakes. And some swimmers aren’t as clean or as courteous regarding their bodily functions as you’d like them to be. <Ahem.> But humans aren’t the only ones at fault. We also share beaches with wildlife, waterfowl and pets whose wastes can dirty our waters.


It’s a serious issue. Fecal material harbors bacteria, such as the dangerous E. coli bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, and even death in immune-compromised, elderly or very young people. That’s why state and local officials test the water at public beaches. They want to make sure that no one gets sick after going for a swim.


The problem is that current tests take too long. They involve taking water samples and putting them on culture dishes to see if bacteria grow. That can take a day or two. So, today’s result is really an indication of the water quality yesterday or even a couple of days ago. Thus, managers might close a beach based on fecal contamination that existed in the past, but that poses no current threat. Likewise, they might keep a contaminated beach open because the water was clean in the past.


Now, researchers report in Environmental Science & Technology that they’ve compared various methods and found that one particular water-quality test could be ideal. Developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the test’s fast results could help managers across the country make better decisions about their beaches. It could prevent unnecessary beach closures and unnecessary illnesses by providing accurate, same-day results of bacteria levels.


What do you think? Have you ever gotten sick after swimming in a lake or ocean? How would you build a water-quality test?


“Choices in Recreational Water Quality Monitoring: New Opportunities and Health Risk Trade-Offs”



*Journalists can request a PDF of the journal article by emailing






Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock 


Follow us: Twitter, Facebook