A self-assembling synthetic membrane that is easily produced may lead to better gas separation, water purification, drug delivery and DNA recognition, according to an international team of researchers.
This membrane is composed of lipids and protein-appended molecules that form water channels that transfer water at the rate of natural membranes and self-assemble into two-dimensional structures with parallel channels.
“Nature does things very efficiently and transport proteins are amazing machines present in biological membranes," said Manish Kumar, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Penn State. "They have functions that are hard to replicate in synthetic systems."
According to Kumar, he and his fellow researchers were "surprised to see transport rates approaching the 'holy grail' number of a billion water molecules per channel per second. We also found that these artificial channels like to associate with each other in a membrane to make 2-dimensional arrays with a very high pore density,” he added.
These second-generation synthetic water channels, which are more stable and easier to manufacture than their predecessor, automatically form densely packed arrays which offer a variety of engineering applications. According to Kumar, the channels may be used to produce highly efficient water purification membranes.
Kumar and co-authors report their findings in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
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