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The Magnetic Wand That Cleans Oil Spills

​Oil spills are an unavoidable part of our future on this planet, but we could at least clean them up better.

​Oil spills are an unavoidable part of our future on this planet. Until we no longer have to rely on the messy stuff, we will still have to pump oil and ship it around the world, and drilling and shipping inevitably means spills.

In this season of Upgrade, we head out to Fermilab, the nation's premier particle physics laboratory, to talk to Arden Warner. Warner, whose day job as a physicist consists of colliding high speed particles together, thought of a unique way to clean up oil spills using magnets.

Warner said he figured there had to be a way to organically magnetize spilled oil, which could then be magnetically vacuumed up. He showed us how to do this by adding magnetite, a naturally occurring metal, which allows spill oil to more easily be manipulated and captured than by other methods. We also take a look at how he has implemented these simple principles into an electromagnetic boom that could be used to change the future of oil spill recovery.