Researchers Explore Getting Rid of Stuff

While many of us were stuck at home over the last year online shopping numbers skyrocketed. Companies like Amazon boomed. But our homes became filled with even more stuff, maybe stuff we didn’t need.

Researchers at OSU might have some ideas on getting rid of extra stuff.

Such techniques could help parents eliminate baby items once their children have grown or a young person moving out for the first time sort through the their childhood knick-knacks.

The researchers conducted a field study involving 797 students who lived in six residence halls on campus. At the end of a fall semester, the researchers advertised a donation drive before the students left for the holidays. But there was a catch: There were actually two different advertising campaigns that varied by residence halls.

In the memory preservation campaign, signs in the residence hall bathrooms stated, “Don’t Pack up Your Sentimental Clutter…Just Keep a Photo of It, Then Donate.” In the control campaign, fliers told students, “Don’t Pack Up Your Sentimental Clutter, Just Collect the Items, Then Donate.” Similar numbers of students were exposed to both campaigns.

After finals week, research associates who were unaware of what the study was about emptied donation bins in each residence hall, counting the items donated.

The researchers found 613 items were donated in the halls that hosted the “memory preservation” campaign, versus only 533 in the control campaign.

In other related experiments, the researchers found that it wasn’t just the memories associated with these possessions that were keeping people from donating – it was the identities linked to those memories.

For example, older parents may still feel connected to their identity as new mothers and fathers and not want to part with their infant clothes.

Results showed that those who received the photos reported less identity loss than those who did not.

Researchers said that the bottom line is this technique can help anyone who is emotionally attached to items that could be donated or thrown away, helping declutter their lives.

New Technology Inspired by the Lotus Leaf

Inside Dr. Bharat Bhushan’s lab at the Ohio State University one might find some very average looking pieces of stainless steel mesh. So normal in fact one might consider them garbage. In truth these pieces of mesh are rather like Super Man assuming his alter ego Clark Kent as they might be the new super hero of environmental clean up efforts.

Water can pass through the mesh, but oil doesn’t. The real super hero here isn’t the mesh, but rather a nanotechnology inspired by nature, a coating applied to the mesh. With this coating a mixture of oil and water is able to be poured onto the mesh—the water passes cleaning through into one beaker while the oil is easily poured off the mesh and into another.

The new nanotechnologies are under development at the Ohio State University and have been written about twice in the Nature Scientific Reports journal. As one would guess, cleaning up oil spills is one immediately imagined application of the technology, but it might also be used for tracking oil deposits underground.

“If you scale this up, you could potentially catch an oil spill with a net,” said Bharat Bhushan, Ohio Eminent Scholar and Howard D. Winbigler Professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio State.
But what does all this have to do with Lotus leaves?

For years his work has been inspired by the humble lotus leaf whose surface naturally repels water, but not oil. By using a polymer embedded with a surfactant—the part of soap that gives it its cleaning power—Dr. Bhushan was able to create this coating.

Dr. Bhushan explained that some combinations of ingredients he tried actually bind to oil instead of repelling it, which would be useful for cleaning up oil spills.

Another exciting aspect of the technology is that will probably be inexpensive to reproduce—maybe less than a dollar per square foot.

Jody Victor