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Airdate: May 17, 2017
Scientist: Pedro Alvarez

Nanotechnology Just Like Shark Skin

Nanotechnology  Just Like Shark Skin
Designing a membrane that doesn't clog up.

Nanotechnology Like Shark Skin

Around the world, water is one of our most precious and endangered resources. Engineers are designing new membranes to help provide cleaner water, with the help of nanotechnology - which makes use of the special properties of tiny particles. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Alvarez: there are many ways that we can improve the properties of membrane so that they can filter water more efficiently at a lower cost.

Pedro Alvarez is director of the nanosystems engineering research center at Rice University.

Alvarez: One of the most important things is to prevent the fouling of membranes that essentially clog them up, and it cost you a lot of energy to get water through them and that shortens their economic life. Nanotechnology can be used to synthesize surfaces that exhibit a surface structure, that resembles that of the shark skin or the lotus leaf. These are structures that repel attachment by bacteria and by other things that cause scaling or fouling, so that membranes or just any surface, would be a lot easier to clean, and also much more difficult for microorganisms and other foulants to attach.
Another approach might be to introduce nano carriers - that is, little vesicles that release slowly anti-microbial materials, such as silver or copper. And also, you could, add in ceramic membranes - photocatalysts, so that when they are irradiated by light, they destroy organic chemicals and make the membranes reactive, so that they not only filter the pollutants but they destroy undesirable pollutants.

We'll hear more about nanotechnology and water in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by the Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology and the National Science Foundation.