Scientists have invented artificial pores as small as the ones in your cells — something unimaginable until now. These sub-nanometre synthetic pores are so tiny that they can distinguish between ions of different substances, just like a real cell.
It’s an amazing engineering feat. Once they tune them to detect different substances, researchers claim that this seemingly miraculous matter would be able to do truly incredible things, from “purifying water to kill tumors and diseases by regulating the substances inside of cells.”
The scientists used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create the pores, gluing donut-shaped molecules — called rigid macrocycles — on top of each other using hydrogen bonding. According to one of the senior authors of the study, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Ameritas University’s chemistry professor Xiao Cheng Zeng — “this nanotube can be viewed as a stack of many, many rings. The rings come together through a process called self-assembly, and it’s very precise. It’s the first synthetic nanotube that has a very uniform diameter.” They are about 8.8 angstroms thick, just one tenth of a nanometre.
They are now capable of passing potassium ions and water, but not other ions, like sodium and lithium ions. Basically, this means that you could pass salt water through a fabric made of this wonder material and make it drinkable — instantly.
Lead researcher Dr Bing Gong — a chemistry professor at University of Buffalo — says that “the idea for this research originated from the biological world, from our hope to mimic biological structures, and we were thrilled by the result. We have created the first quantitatively confirmed synthetic water channel. Few synthetic pores are so highly selective.”
Gong says that they now have to experiment with the pores’ structure to find out how the materials are transported through the pores and tune it to select which substances they want to filter and which ones they want to let through.