Scientists Develop Gel that Can Prevent Wildfires

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. encapsulate / ɛnˈkæp səˌleɪt / (v) – to cover or put something inside another thing

    The scientists encapsulated the toxic substance inside a closed container.

  2. put out / pʊt aʊt / (phrasal) – to stop a fire

    The firefighters were able to put out the fire immediately before it started spreading.

  3. reactive / riˈæk tɪv / (adj) – describing something that is done quickly to solve a problem

    The management’s solution to the problem was reactive; it was obvious that they did things in a hurry.

  4. withstand / wɪθˈstænd / (v) – to remain unaffected by something

    Bridges in the city are strong and can withstand heavy rains and winds.

  5. resistant / rɪˈzɪs tənt / (adj) – unaffected or unharmed by something

    The vaccine helps patients become resistant to viruses.


Read the text below.

Experts have invented a spray-on gel that can encapsulate fire retardants—substances that can slow or stop the spread of fire.

The project was led by Stanford professor Eric Appel, who had previously developed gels used to carry medicine into the human body. Appel’s team collaborated with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to use the same material in fighting California’s disastrous wildfires.

Currently, putting out wildfires involves dropping fire retardants from a plane, which is a reactive firefighting method. The fire retardants are easily blown away or washed off, so they cannot be used for preventive measures.

In contrast, the gel developed by Appel’s team can withstand wind or rain, allowing it to stick to surfaces for an extended period of time. The substance works by spraying it onto the vegetation of fire-prone areas. Once applied, the gel acts as a protective cover that prevents a wildfire from spreading.

The material’s longevity fits California’s needs in cases of wildfires. The state’s biggest fires typically happen in the fall before the rainy days, and strong winds during this time cause wildfires to spread rapidly. Because of this, the gel can be applied in the summer to prepare for months when big fires are expected. It can last until the heavy rains arrive, when the ground and vegetation are expected to be wet and naturally resistant to fire. Although the gel will eventually be washed off by the rain, there will be no adverse effect on the environment.

Because Appel’s team plans to make the gel commercially available, the Stanford professor has founded a startup that can make this plan possible. He and his team envision that the gel will be useful as the effects of climate change persist.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think it is a good idea for California to adopt the use of the gel to prevent wildfires? Why or why not?
• Aside from those mentioned in the article, in what other ways can this gel technology be used? Explain.

Discussion B

• Today, many institutions aim to produce environment-friendly products. Do you think there are enough resources for environment-friendly innovations? Why or why not?
• If you were to create an environment-friendly product, what would it be? How would it function? Explain.