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"There was a time when one old eccentric guy with a notebook could do something important to science. Now even the resources of a major university are often not enough."
- Jerry Pournelle

Molecular Sieve  
  A device that can extract any element from seawater.  

Clarke begins the story by pointing out that a cubic mile of sea water contains millions of tons of dissolved minerals - how best to get at them, when there are only about fifty pounds of gold per cubic mile?

I put some of my young men to work and they have made what we call a 'molecular sieve.' ... It depends on very advanced wave-mechanical theories for its operation, but what it actually does is absurdly simple. We can choose any component of sea water we like, and get the sieve to take it out. With several units, working in series, we can take out one element after another. The efficiency's quite high, and the power consumption negligible.
From Tales from the White Hart, by Arthur C. Clarke.
Published by Ballantine Books in 1957
Additional resources -

This device comes from the short story The Man Who Ploughed The Sea, which was published in 1957 with the publication of Clarke's third collection of short stories Tales From The White Hart.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Tales from the White Hart
  More Ideas and Technology by Arthur C. Clarke
  Tech news articles related to Tales from the White Hart
  Tech news articles related to works by Arthur C. Clarke

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