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If you've ever been confronted with a spill of beryllium particles (and let's face it, who hasn't, from time to time) you'll know that sweeping the little blighters up is tricky work.

Good news, then, that a nuclear boffin has developed a new kind of wipe (patent pending) capable of picking up things even as tiny as beryllium.

Ron Simandl, a research chemist at a nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee, has dubbed his invention the "Negligible-Residue Non-tacky Tack Cloth" - a muslin cloth coated in an organic solvent that is very sticky, but only on a microscopic scale. Coated cloths feel perfectly dry to the touch, Simandl says.

In testing, the cloths he has coated have managed to clean up metal, radioactive contaminants, ceramic, fibre, and plastic. He reckons it'd be most handy for anyone trying to keep a clean room clean, or for mopping up industrial accidents.

But he's keeping details of the special coating close to his chest, saying only that there is a good, but "not necessarily obvious", reason why it works.

Head of technology transfer for the Y-12 plant says he is looking for a technical champion for the product. He told the Associated Press news agency: "It is kind of hard to comprehend that it can actually do what it says it can do." ®

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