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Tricky Transformation: Bubbling gases tighten, then loosen, the grip of novel molecules on grime

Imagine if detergent could not only pick up grease from your clothes but also let it go on command. You might then prevent the detergent from going down the drain with the dirt.

A new class of compounds created by researchers in Canada and the United States switches between clingy and nonclingy forms upon exposure to common gases, including air.

Although not yet being considered for laundry, such switchable substances might serve as improved degreasers for heavy equipment, the compounds' developers say. Perhaps more important, the compounds might aid in recovery of crude oil from oil sands and lead to more-efficient and less-polluting ways to manufacture polymers.

The team, led by Philip G. Jessop of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, unveils the new work in the Aug. 18 Science. The group included researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

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