Norwegian sepiolite fibers, with a euro coin for scale (Photo: ESRF)
Cat litter might not seem like a particularly exotic substance, but it contains a mineral known as sepiolite, which is actually rather remarkable. Mined from only a few sources worldwide, sepiolite is a type of clay that absorbs 2.5 times its weight in water - that's more absorbent than any other known mineral, or any manmade material. This is made possible by its crystalline structure, that maximizes the amount of internal surface area available for soaking up liquids ... such as cat pee. Recently, an international team of scientists have obtained X-ray diffraction microscope images of sepiolite for the first time. Using the information provided by those images, a cheaper, easier-to-source synthetic version of the mineral could be created, and used in everything from batteries to food.