A polymer-based material that forms nanometer-sized pores outperforms activated carbon or zeolites in reducing low-concentration contaminants in water, says DeQuan Li, polymer chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M. He says the polymer could be used to clean up organic explosives, remediate underground water, and clean up oil or organic chemical spills--all while decreasing cleanup costs associated with current technologies. He says the molecular binding between organic contaminants and the polymer is 100,000 times greater than with activated charcoal and the process is 100% reversible. Discovered by Li and graduate student Min Ma, the nanosponges are made of polymeric building blocks (cyclodextrins). Thus far, the researchers have developed polymers to bind with trichloroethylene, toluene, phenol derivatives, and a number of dye compounds.