Researchers at Columbia University, New York, are studying ways of utilizing sugar-based surfactants to create high-performance cleaning agents. They claim the sugar-based polymers are milder than soaps, can be used in personal-care products, are easily digested by microbes, are tolerant of hard water, and leave no trace in the environment. "We believe they have better cleansing properties than today's household products, and are equal or better in biodegradability," says Ponisseril Somasundaran, LaVon D. Krumb Professor of Mineral Engineering in the Henry Krumb School of Mines at Columbia. "There is no reason to restrict these new materials to industrial use, he adds. The surfactants are being studied via such techniques as fluorescence spectroscopy and electron spin resonance spectroscopy.