If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Tiny Submarines Gather Oil

Alkanethiol-coated microengines could clean up oil contamination in water

by Bethany Halford
April 23, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 17

To remove oil and other organic contaminants from water, scientists may someday deploy submarines—microsubmarines. Tubular microscale engines zip through solution by converting hydrogen peroxide fuel into oxygen bubbles that they then expel for propulsion. By giving these tiny swimmers a hydrophobic monolayer coating of long-chain alkanethiols, researchers have transformed them into oil-gathering microsubmarines that are capable of capturing, transporting, and separating oil contamination from water (ACS Nano, DOI: 10.1021/nn301175b). Joseph Wang of the University of California, San Diego, and coworkers created the tiny subs, each about 8 μm long, by using a membrane-template electrodeposition process. The tubes are made of a platinum core, which oxidizes hydrogen peroxide into oxygen bubbles. This core is surrounded by a layer of poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) or PEDOT, then a layer of nickel, and finally a layer of gold. Wang’s group then coated the gold surface with a monolayer of dodecanethiol. When placed in water contaminated with oil, the microsubmarines picked up as much as 10 times their volume in oil droplets as they zoomed along. “Such high oil-adsorption ability indicates considerable promise for the cleanup of contaminated water samples,” note the researchers.


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.