Sustainable futures

From nanoscale to global impact

Nanoparticles that clean oil spills by making the soil respond to magnets. Using sheets of graphene or packed glass nanospheres for cheaper, more efficient desalination. Stiffer pavement that could reduce US vehicle fuel consumption by 3%. From gains in efficiency to reinventing entire industries, nanotechnology is shaping a sustainable future.

Food Preservation

The tropical root vegetable cassava is a staple crop for millions in sub-Saharan Africa. But after harvesting, it rots within a few days. An MIT team has designed a simple way to prolong cassava’s shelf life: a plastic storage bag lined with nanoparticles that react with oxygen, preventing spoilage. The group also invented a container with a nanopatterned, antimicrobial coating to preserve milk.
Professor Paula Hammond '84, PhD '93 and international colleagues through the Meridian Institute 

Greener Nanotubes

Carbon nanotubes—tiny, hollow cylinders made of carbon atoms—hold promise for applications in electronics, medicine, and other fields. Producing nanotubes, however, releases chemicals into the atmosphere that include greenhouse gases and hazardous pollutants. MIT researchers have found that simply by removing one step in the production process, emissions are reduced 10-fold and energy use is halved.
Professors Philip Gschwend and A. John Hart SM '02, PhD '06; visiting professor Desirée Plata PhD ‘09

Rethinking Desalination

Desalination could address global water shortages, but current methods are expensive. MIT researchers have produced sheets of graphene—a layer of carbon just one atom thick—with precise, nano-sized holes that block salt ions but let water molecules through. This method could lead to a new generation of desalination plants that are cheaper, faster, and smaller.
Professor Jeffrey Grossman and graduate student David Cohen-Tanugi SM '12