Questions for ‘A new solar-powered gel purifies water in a flash’

A photo of two women scientists in a lab smiling at the camera. Néhémie Guillomaitre, on the left, is a Black woman with large round wireframe glasses and her hair braided away from her face. Xiaohui Xu, an Asian woman with shoulder length dark hair, stands on the rigth and is holding a petri dish full of the new hydrogel.

Néhémie Guillomaitre and Xiaohui Xu hold their water-purifying hydrogel. It works by soaking up water and filtering out contaminants.

Bumper DeJesus/Princeton University

To accompany A new solar-powered gel purifies water in a flash


Before Reading:

  1. Describe the characteristics of something that is “gel-like.” Come up with one example of a gel-like substance. How would this substance be different if it was a liquid rather than a gel?
  2. List two contaminants that can make water dangerous to drink. Include one example of a living contaminant and one non-living contaminant. Summarize a way of dealing with each so that the water is safe to drink. Which contaminant do you think is harder to remove? 

During Reading:

  1. What are two things this new gel is capable of blocking out? What type of change triggers the gel to release clean water?
  2. What is a hydrogel? 
  3. How did Xiaohui Xu and her team test the new gel’s self-cleansing abilities? 
  4. What is the “loofah” part of this system?
  5. What type of energy does this new gel need to run? 
  6. How do the gel’s “threadlike” molecules change as the gel’s temperature increases? What does Edward Cussler mean when he calls this type of phenomenon “unusual”?
  7. Besides water purification, list two other potential applications for this gel.

After Reading:

  1. Besides water treatment, what potential application for this gel interests you most? Describe a scenario in which this application might prove very helpful.
  2. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of the water-purifying gel from this story. Describe a place where the gel from this story could benefit families the most. Explain your answer.
  3. Describe a place where water scarcity poses an issue but where this particular gel would probably be of little help. (Hint: Consider environmental and climate factors.) Why would this gel not work well in the place you’ve described? Now devise a futuristic water-scarcity solution that might work in this situation. Feel free to be creative! Your answer may sound more like science fiction than reality, and that’s fine. Just be sure to consider the unique challenges of this imaginary place you’ve described in coming up with your answer.