Cotton-polymer material absorbs or repels moisture depending how hot it is

Aside from the sweltering daytime heat and the freezing night-time temperatures, the biggest problem for folks living in desert regions is finding sources of water. Researchers from Eindhoven University of Technology and Hong Kong Polytechnic have leveraged those temperature swings to help solve the arid region hydration conundrum with a cotton material that absorbs water straight from the surrounding air. Of course, it's not your run-of-the-mill fabric woven from fluffy white stuff. This cloth is coated in a special polymer, called PNIPAAm, that's hydrophilic (read: super absorbent) at temperatures 34°C and below, but becomes hydrophobic (read: repels water) when it gets any hotter.

In absorption mode, the cloth can hold 340 percent of its own weight -- compared to just 18 percent without the polymer's aid -- and when it warms up, it releases the collected moisture as clean and pure potable water. So, it can help hydrate both plants and people in desert regions around the world. The boffins who created the stuff claim it's reusable and can be used on locally-sourced cotton fabrics for a minimal, 12 percent cost increase given current manufacturing conditions. Not impressed? Well, the magical moisture-absorbing material may get even better, as the plan is to increase the amount of water the material can hold and lower the temperature threshold for its release.