The new material, which is described in the June 19 issue of the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition, could have a wide variety of applications, from a protein filter for biological mixtures to a tiny valve on a "lab-on-a-chip."
Synthetic polymer membranes are used in a variety of applications based on the science of "bioseparation" -- filtering specific proteins from complex liquid mixtures of biological molecules. But proteins often stick to these membranes, clogging up their pores and severely limiting their performance, according to Georges Belfort, the Russell Sage Professor of Chemical Engineering at Rensselaer and corresponding author of the paper.
"We asked ourselves, can one use light to help the proteins hop on and hop off? We have shown that when one changes light, the proteins don't stick as well," Belfort says.
Operators need an inexpensive way to clean these membranes while they are still in place, rather than periodically removing them from the application environment, Belfort says. But currently the only cleaning options involve expensive chemicals or labor-intensive procedures that result in significant process down-time.
To make the new materials, Belfort and his coworkers attached spiropyran molecules to a widely used industrial polymer, poly(ether sulfone). Spiropyrans are a group of light-switchable organic molecules that exist in a colorless, "closed" form under visible light, but switch to a reddish-purple, "open" form when exposed to UV light. This change leads to an alteration of the new material's polarity, or the chemical structure of its atoms.
In switching from non-polar to polar, the material becomes less attractive to proteins that might stick to its surface, according to Belfort. Exposing the material to UV light is like flipping a molecular switch, causing sticky proteins to detach from the surface and wash away in the liquid, the researchers report.
Not only is the switching mechanism uncomplicated, but so is the patented procedure required to graft spiropyran molecules to poly(ether sulfone). "We used a relatively simple two-step process that could be easily incorporated into a commercial manufacturing process," Belfort says. "The relative ease of this grafting and switching process suggests many industrial opportunities."
In addition to bioseparations, Belfort envisions a number of potential applications for the materials, ranging from new membranes for treating polluted water to the targeted release of drugs in the body.
For example, in recent years researchers have developed "lab-on-a-chip" technology for automating laboratory processes on extremely small scales. Belfort notes that the new material could be employed as a surface valve that can be opened and closed by applying light, offering the ability to control liquid flow in a chip's ultra-tiny channels.
And in sensors designed to detect biological agents, the ability to control the polarity of the membrane could help reduce the attachment of unwanted proteins, providing more accurate readings, according to Belfort.
Jason Gorss | EurekAlert!
Siberian scientists suggested a new method for synthesizing a promising magnetic material
23.01.2018 | Siberian Federal University
Complex tessellations, extraordinary materials
23.01.2018 | Technische Universität München
Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.
Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...
On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.
We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...
What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...
For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.
Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...
At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.
No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...
08.01.2018 | Event News
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
23.01.2018 | Life Sciences
23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences
23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy