A multidisciplinary group of engineers and scientists has discovered a new method for water filtration that could have implications for a variety of technologies, such as desalination plants, breathable and protective fabrics, and carbon capture in gas separations. The research team, led by Manish Kumar in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, published their findings in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology.
The study, which brought together researchers from UT Austin, Penn State University, the University of Tennessee, Fudan University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was initially inspired by the way our cells transport water throughout the body and began as an attempt to develop artificial channels for transporting water across membranes.
The aim was to mimic aquaporins, essential membrane proteins that serve as water channels and are found in certain cells. Aquaporins are fast and efficient water filtration systems. They form pores in the membranes of cells in various parts of the body - eyes, kidneys and lungs - where water is in greatest demand.
Kumar and the team didn't manage to mirror the aquaporin system exactly as planned. Instead, they discovered an even more effective water filtration process. Unlike the body's individual aquaporin cells, which function effectively independent of one another, the membranes developed by Kumar's research group didn't work well alone.
But, when he combined several of them to create networks of "water wires," they were highly effective at water transport and filtration. Water wires are densely connected chains of water molecules that move exceptionally fast, like a train and its individual cars.
"We were trying to copy the already complicated water transport process used by aquaporins and stumbled upon an entirely new, and even better, method," said Kumar, an associate professor in the Cockrell School's Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. "It was completely serendipitous. We had no idea it would happen."
These networks of artificial membranes could prove useful for separating salt from water, a filtration process that is currently inefficient and costly. The new membrane has shown impressive desalination properties, exhibiting far more selective salt and presumably other contaminant removal when compared with existing processes.
"Our method is a thousand times more efficient than current desalination processes in terms of its selectivity and permeability," Kumar said. "For every 10,000 saltwater molecules that pass through current desalination systems, one salt molecule might not be filtered out. With our new membrane technology, one salt molecule for every 10 million water molecules would not be filtered out, while maintaining a water transport rate comparable to or better than current membranes."
For his entire career, Kumar has focused on developing materials and processes that take the functionality of biological molecular models and apply them into engineering scales.
"It is difficult to even effectively mimic the complexities of how the human body works, especially at the molecular level," he said. "This time, however, nature was the starting point for an even greater discovery than we could have ever hoped for."
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Adrienne Lee | EurekAlert!
Hightec for nature: Bio-logging goes mini
03.04.2020 | Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz-Institut für Evolutions- und Biodiversitätsforschung
A firm grip on any surface
13.03.2020 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Drops of water falling on or sliding over surfaces may leave behind traces of electrical charge, causing the drops to charge themselves. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz have now begun a detailed investigation into this phenomenon that accompanies us in every-day life. They developed a method to quantify the charge generation and additionally created a theoretical model to aid understanding. According to the scientists, the observed effect could be a source of generated power and an important building block for understanding frictional electricity.
Water drops sliding over non-conducting surfaces can be found everywhere in our lives: From the dripping of a coffee machine, to a rinse in the shower, to an...
90 million-year-old forest soil provides unexpected evidence for exceptionally warm climate near the South Pole in the Cretaceous
An international team of researchers led by geoscientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have now...
The bacteria that cause tuberculosis need iron to survive. Researchers at the University of Zurich have now solved the first detailed structure of the transport protein responsible for the iron supply. When the iron transport into the bacteria is inhibited, the pathogen can no longer grow. This opens novel ways to develop targeted tuberculosis drugs.
One of the most devastating pathogens that lives inside human cells is Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacillus that causes tuberculosis. According to the...
An international team with the participation of Prof. Dr. Michael Kues from the Cluster of Excellence PhoenixD at Leibniz University Hannover has developed a new method for generating quantum-entangled photons in a spectral range of light that was previously inaccessible. The discovery can make the encryption of satellite-based communications much more secure in the future.
A 15-member research team from the UK, Germany and Japan has developed a new method for generating and detecting quantum-entangled photons at a wavelength of...
Together with their colleagues from the University of Würzburg, physicists from the group of Professor Alexander Szameit at the University of Rostock have devised a “funnel” for photons. Their discovery was recently published in the renowned journal Science and holds great promise for novel ultra-sensitive detectors as well as innovative applications in telecommunications and information processing.
The quantum-optical properties of light and its interaction with matter has fascinated the Rostock professor Alexander Szameit since College.
02.04.2020 | Event News
26.03.2020 | Event News
23.03.2020 | Event News
03.04.2020 | Materials Sciences
03.04.2020 | Life Sciences
03.04.2020 | Life Sciences