We've previously heard about air-purifying clothing, so perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise to find out that scientists have now developed the aquatic equivalent – a bikini top that filters pollutants out of the water around the wearer. And yes, the technology could have other uses.

The swimwear was developed by a team at the University of California, Riverside (led by wife-and-husband electrical engineering professors Mihri and Cengiz Ozkan), working with design firm Eray Carbajo. It was created as an entry in the Reshape 15 Wearable Technology Competition, where it won the top prize.

The base layer of the top consists of 3D-printed elastic netting which conforms to the contours of the wearer's body – and which would be rather revealing on its own. Placed into that netting, however, are opaque inserts made from a material known as Sponge.

Sponge is derived from heated sucrose, and is at once highly hydrophobic (it repels water) while also being very good at absorbing harmful contaminants. This means that it can fill up just on pollutants – up to 25 times its own weight worth of them – without also becoming saturated with water.

The contaminants are stored in pores within the material, so they shouldn't come into contact with the wearer. In fact, the only way of releasing them is to heat the Sponge to at least 1,000 ºC (1,832 ºF). This can be done up to 20 times before the inserts start losing their absorbency.

Sponge was originally developed for applications such as cleaning up oil spills or desalinizing sea water. The scientists now additionally hope that its hydrophobic qualities could be transferred to paints used on airplanes and satellites. Cengiz Ozkan also tells us that there are plans for Sponge boarder shorts and wetsuits, along with bikini bottoms.

View gallery - 2 images