Upsalite, the 'impossible material'

A super absorbent material has been developed that could mop up toxic waste, oil and chemical spills and so much more. Photo: Upsalite/ Public

NEW YORK, August 9, 2013 — Scientists are calling it “the impossible material.” But why?

Some scientific discoveries are easy to get excited over, but others seem to be private fun just for the bunch of folks in white lab coats.

Reading formulas and jargon, our eyes soon cross in the first paragraph or two, and in the end we are left to wonder, “what’s all the fuss?”

Now there’s Upsalite. Should we shrug, and let the scientists rejoice over over yet another obscure manipulation of this chemical or that?


The creation of Upsalite really does matter in our world, and more good news, it is not hard to understand what the fuss is all about.

On July 17, 2013, the open access, peer reviewed journal “PLOS ONE”, published research on A Template-Free, Ultra-Adsorbing, High Surface Area Carbonate Nanostructure, dubbed Upsalite honoring Upsala University, where the creation of this “impossible material” was achieved.

Upsalite is form of magnesium carbonate, that sets new records for surface area and as a result, for moisture absorption. This is a wonderful development, which even at first blush has a huge array of positive uses in all parts of life, from medicine, to natural disasters, even surely someday the ease of daily life in the home.

What does it mean for a substance to “set new records for surface area?” This has to do with “pores” or porousness. If one imagines a perfectly smooth, glass surface, the whole of its “surface area” is virtually synonymous with the precise measurements of what meets the eye.

Now if we took a paper towel with just the same measurements as the glass surface, through this notion of porousness, we find that the “surface area” of the paper towel is far greater than the glass. If we held up a magnifying glass, or a jeweler’s magnifying loop to the paper towel, we find deep crevices and pores throughout, all contributing to is “surface area.” If we stretched the paper towel out flat so that its entire “surface” were on a flat plane, the paper towel would extend out to many times the dimensions we thought we saw when we thought of the paper towel as “flat.”

These pores, this porousness is what makes paper towels so good to mop up spills. The pores are what give paper towels their high degree of absorption.

If we spilled a glass of water, we’d have a terrible time to wipe it up with a piece of saran wrap. A paper towel is just the right tool. Why because it is so porous. In a small swuare it has a large surface area.

The spill however might be so much water that we need several paper towels.

How many we need depends on how much moisture each towel can absorb. The point of interest here is “absorption” power, and this is related entirely to surface area.

If we could make a paper towel with a thousand times more craters and crevices, meaning a greater surface area, we could conceivably soak up an entire gallon of water with a single paper towel.

Meet Upsalite. We are not talking about making a better paper towel. With Upsalite, we are speaking of the creation of a stable magnesium carbonate compound in which the surface area in a piece of Upsalite less than half the size of a penny, if stretched “flat,” would take of the area of a full blown sail for a seafaring yacht!

With a piece of Upsalite the size of a penny, you possibly could sop up the moisturefrom your flooded basement!

The most immediate excitement for this material that now exists thanks to the scientists at Upsala, is the anticipation of cleaning toxic spills, chemical and oil spills, smoke absorption from fires, and near countless applications in which absorption solves a functional or emergency need.

Other good news comes from Johan Goméz de la Torre, a researcher in the university’s nanotechnology and functional materials division. He says, “In contrast to what has been claimed for more than 100 years in the scientific literature, we have found that amorphous magnesium carbonate can be made in a very simple, low-temperature process.”

“The Huffington Report” notes that Upsalite has the highest surface area ever measured for a so-called alkali earth metal carbonate. It is filled with empty pores with diameters measuring less than 10 nanometers.

Now at first that seems like pretty complicated science. But it is not hard to understand, and it is not hard to share the joy on this one. Congratulations to the team at Upsala. We welcome the “impossible material.”


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Frank Kaufmann

Frank Kaufmann is Editor in Chief of New World Encyclopedia (a values based, general knowledge encyclopedia), executive director of the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace (an international, interreligious peace organization), founder and president of Values in Knowledge Foundation (a movement to to meet the challenges and undo the harm caused by declining content in the world of  knowledge and information).

Frank Kaufmann's work for peace includes efforts in over 65 countries with successes in conflict ridden and violent environments.

This mission to produce and maintain New World Encyclopedia involves supporting a virtual academy of over 500 international scholars as contributors. 



Contact Frank Kaufmann


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