Upsalite Accident Creates “Impossible Material” With Myriad Uses (

It’s amazing how incredible accidents in science can be. Upsalite could dramatically shift how we perceive everything from cat litter to antibiotic delivery methods.


Scientists make “Impossible Material” … by accident

A sample of Upsalite


In an effort to create a more viable material for drug delivery, a team of researchers has accidentally created an entirely new material thought for more than 100 years to be impossible to make. Upsalite is a new form of non-toxic magnesium carbonate with an extremely porous surface area which allows it to absorb more moisture at low humidities than any other known material. “The total area of the pore walls of one gram of material would cover 800 square meters (8611 sq ft) if you would ‘roll them out'”, Maria Strømme, Professor of Nanotechnology at the Uppsala University, Sweden tells Gizmag. That’s roughly equal to the sail area of a megayacht. Aside from using substantially less energy to create dryer environments for producing electronics, batteries and pharmaceuticals, Upsalite could also be used to clean up oil spills, toxic waste and residues.

Scientists have long puzzled over this particular form of magnesium carbonate since it doesn’t normally occur in nature and has defied synthesis in laboratories. Until now, its properties have remained a mystery. Strømme confesses that they didn’t actually set out to create it. “We were really into making a porous calcium carbonate for drug delivery purposes and wanted to try to make a similarly porous magnesium carbonate since we knew that magnesium carbonate was non-toxic and already approved for drug delivery,” she tells us. “We tried to use the same process as with the calcium carbonate, totally unaware of the fact that researchers had tried to make disordered magnesium carbonates for many decades using this route without succeeding.”

Upsalite has a surface area of 800 square meters (8611 sq ft), the highest measured surface area for an alkali earth metal


The breakthrough came when they tweaked the process a little and accidentally left the material in the reaction chamber over a weekend. On their return they found a new gel in place. “We realized that the material we had made was one that had been claimed impossible to make,” Strømme adds. A year spent refining the process gave them Upsalite.

While creating a theoretical material sounds like cause for celebration, Strømme says the major scientific breakthrough is to be found in its amazing properties. No other known carbonate has a surface area as large as 800 sq m per gram. Though scientists have created many new high surface area materials with nanotechnology, such as carbon nanotubes and zeolites, what makes Upsalite special is the minuteness of its nanopores.

Each nanopore is less than 10 nanometers in diameter which results in one gram of the material having a whopping 26 trillion nanopores. “If a material has many small pores,” explains Strømme, “it gives the material a very large surface area per gram, which gives the material many reaction sites, i.e. sites that can react with the environment, with specific chemicals, or in the case of Upsalite, with moisture.”

Upsalite’s moisture absorption properties are striking. It was found to absorb 20 times more moisture than fumed silica, a material used for cat box fillers and as an anti-caking agent for moisture control during the transport of moisture sensitive goods. This means that you’d need 20 times less material to do the moisture control job.

Its unique pore structure also opens up new applications in drug delivery. The pores can host drugs that need protection from the environment before being delivered to the human body. It’s also useful in thermal insulation, drying residues from oil and gas industries, and as a dessicant for humidity control. Potential applications are still being discovered as the material undergoes development for industrial use.

The team at Uppsala University is commercializing Upsalite through their spin-off company Disruptive Materials. An article describing the material and its properties can be found at PLOS ONE.

iKnife is Capable of Sniffing Cancer During Surgery ( has posted an article about a truly groundbreaking new surgical knife capable of sniffing tissue and determining if it’s cancer or benign. This breakthrough is amazing and offers a ridiculous amount of potential in other fields.


The iKnife has been used in tests in 91 operations, where it showed 100 percent accuracy when compared to conventional tests.

Dr. Zoltan Takats of the Imperial College London has developed one very sharp knife – and we’re not referring to its keen edge. The Intelligent Knife (iKnife) is equipped with a nose and a brain that can sniff out cancer as it cuts. Using a mass spectrometer to detect chemical profiles associated with tumors, it enables instant identification of cancerous tissue and helps surgeons to make sure that all of a tumor has been removed.

Cancer is obviously something you want to catch early and get rid of completely at the first opportunity. Removing tumors is the simplest and often the least harmful way, but surgeons need to ensure they’ve removed all of the cancerous tissue to prevent the disease from reestablishing itself.

Unfortunately, cancerous tissue isn’t always obvious by sight and laboratory tests are needed. During an operation, this means leaving the patient waiting under anesthetic while the tests are run. Even then, the results aren’t always reliable. According to Imperial College, one in five breast cancer patients must undergo surgery a second time.

The iKnife uses electrosurgery; a common technique developed in the 1920s designed to reduce bleeding in particularly bloody operations, such as liver resectioning. The knife is subjected to an electric current, which heats tissue so fast and at such a temperature that the knife cuts through and cauterizes the tissue to prevent bleeding. Not surprisingly, this produces a cloud of unpleasant smoke, which is sucked away.

However, this cloud also contains all sorts of useful information about the tissue being burned through, so Takats hit on the idea of hooking an electrosurgical knife to a mass spectrometer, which would analyze the smoke and produce a profile of the chemicals that make it up. Some of these chemicals or their combinations are indicative of cancerous tissue.

Once the prototype iKnife was constructed, the next step was to teach it what to look for. This involved using the device to burn tissue samples collected from 302 surgery patients and building up a library of profiles of thousands of cancerous and noncancerous tissues from various organs of the body. As the iKnife cuts through tissue, it matches what it “smells” against this library and alerts the surgeon as to what it finds in about three seconds. This is a considerable improvement over the half hour needed for conventional laboratory tests.

The iKnife has been used in tests in 91 operations, where it showed 100 percent accuracy when compared to conventional tests. According to Imperial College, the next step will be clinical trials where the surgeons will be allowed to see the results in real time instead of after the operation, as was the case in the tests.

“These results provide compelling evidence that the iKnife can be applied in a wide range of cancer surgery procedures,” Dr Takats says. “It provides a result almost instantly, allowing surgeons to carry out procedures with a level of accuracy that hasn’t been possible before. We believe it has the potential to reduce tumor recurrence rates and enable more patients to survive.”

Takats sees the iKnife as having broader applications beyond cancer surgery. Mass spectrometry is a rather general tool and Takat says that it could be used to identify tissues with inadequate blood supply, the presence of certain bacteria, and might even be of use to the local butcher in telling beef from horsemeat.

The results of the iKnife project were published in Science Translational Medicine.

The video below introduces the iKnife.

Biggest, Baddest, Most Awesome Nerf Gun Ever (

The Nerf Vulcan Sentry Gun annihilates opponents at over 7x the speed of a traditional Nerf gun. This is the most nerdy outdoor “sport” accoutrement I’ve ever seen. (Admittedly, it’s pretty awesome.) Video is at the end.


Nerf Vulcan Sentry Gun tracks targets and avoids friendly fire

The Nerf Vulcan Sentry Gun automatically locates targets and unleashes a stream of foam darts at over seven times the usual speed.

Anyone who plays video games will know that few things protect an area like a well-placed sentry gun. In the real world, though, even a person’s bedroom or office could use a little protection sometimes, which is why one designer has built the Nerf Vulcan Sentry Gun. Using a custom program and some servos, the sentry can automatically locate targets and unleash a stream of foam darts at over seven times the usual speed, while keeping its owner out of the crosshairs.

Britt Liv Ulrike Michelsen, a chemical and biological engineering student from Germany, designed and constructed the sentry using mostly basic electronics and some plywood. This isn’t the first time she’s modified a Nerf gun, but building this robotic turret is arguably her most ambitious project to date.

Luckily, the Nerf Vulcan already operates using an electric motor, so controlling the actual firing mechanism through a computer was just a matter of connecting it directly to an Arduino Uno and a laptop. From there, Michelsen crafted a stand from plywood and mounted the gun onto a couple of servos, which also control its turning and tilting through the Arduino.

While she was at it, she swapped out the Vulcan’s usual 2 kg (4.4 lb) firing spring for a 5 kg (11 lb) one, upping the dart’s velocity from 12 m/s (39 ft/s) to 90 m/s (295 ft/s). Aside from giving the darts some extra punch, the increased speed also improved the gun’s accuracy. She also added a higher-voltage battery pack to raise the firing rate.

Then it was just a matter of downloading and running an open-source program created by Bob Rudolph of Project Sentry Gun and affixing a webcam to the front of the stand. The webcam scans the area, while the program automatically locks onto movement, aims the gun, and begins firing.

As a added feature though, the gun can be programmed to cease fire when it registers a par...

As a added feature though, the gun can be programmed to cease fire when it registers a particular symbol. So if a person is wearing that symbol on their shirt, for example, then they can safely walk in front of the sentry, while everyone around them attempts to dodge a hail of darts.

As it stands, the gun can be loaded with a 100-round ammo belt, which runs out quickly but could likely be expanded with a little extra modification. According to the designer, the sentry is extremely accurate and will even anticipate where a target is moving to so as to catch up with them. If needed, the gun can also be controlled using a regular gamepad or joystick connected to the laptop.

It sounds like a lot of work to put this together, but it’s probably all worth it to have an automated guard posted anywhere you want. If you’d like to take a crack at building your own Nerf Vulcan Sentry Gun, Michelsen has posted detailed step-by-step instructions on Instructables.

Check out the video below to see Michelsen demonstrate how the sentry locates and follows targets.

Source: Instructables

Original Gizmag Article

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