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More than 800 million people lack access to clean and safe water. Recent advances in water filtration technology have created new ways to filter water and make it drinkable, but many of these applications are too costly and cumbersome to be used in remote parts of the world. Reverse osmosis, for example, can make sea water drinkable, but the process is incredibly expensive and requires a large amount of energy.
A new study from the lab of Chinedum Osuji describes a novel way to create nanoscale water filters that are flexible and robust, and even have antimicrobial properties. Postdocs Xunda Feng, now at Donghua University, and Yizhou Zhang and graduate student Qaboos Imran are the co-first authors of this paper. Their work was published in Science Advances.
Filter - Engineers - Something - Microscopic - Strainer
When designing a nanoscale filter, engineers usually start with something that resembles a microscopic strainer or a sieve. Water travels through individual holes that are spread along the strainer and are held together by a solid material that fills the space around them.
Osuji's group, which includes experts in modifying the chemistries of block polymers, large chains of molecules with large "blocks" of repeated sequences, found something unexpected while studying another similar material. Their discovery led them to "inverting" their design strategy: Turning the "holes" of the strainer into solid fibers, leaving the previously solid portions of the structure open.
Material - Fibrils - Osuji - Group - Material
"But if you then take a material like this, why won't these fibrils just float apart?" Osuji asks. The group recognized that the material was comprised of something akin to a complex mesh of interconnected threads, or fibers, but with the important distinction that the space between the fibers was explicitly defined by the structure of the molecule that made up the fiber. They realized that the fiber's seemingly random "topological interconnectedness" held the structure together while...
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