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Airdate: May 18, 2017
Scientist: Pedro Alvarez

Nanotechnology Sense and Destroy

Nanotechnology  Sense and Destroy
Self-repairing membranes that target pathogens.

Nanotechnology Sense and Destroy

Ambience: Stream
A water membrane that repairs itself? Stay with us. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Alvarez: We're not there yet, but we certainly can have multi-functional membranes that exhibit not only self-cleaning properties but also self-repairing properties.

Pedro Alvarez is director of the nanosystems engineering research center at Rice University. He says that the special properties of nanoparticles could lead to the creation of a smart membrane to filter water.

Alvarez: For example, you could embed in the membrane nano carriers that contain polymers, so that when the membrane has been ruptured, then you could direct some in situ polymerizations so that the membrane repairs itself.

And that's not all a smart nano-membrane could do.

Alvarez: Now, the idea of "sense and destroy", that could certainly be achievable. Let's say I want to disinfect preferentially a particular pathogen that I can identify with a sensor, a sensor that detects an antibody on the surface of the bacterium for example. Then, I could put a nanoparticle that is like a missile - a missile that is delivered with great precision to that bacteria as we do for drug delivery to treat cancer, but in this case the target is not a cancer cell, but a pathogenic bacteria. When it gets there, then it releases something that kills it. It could be for example, silver ions.
The idea of more selective smarter treatment is certainly within the capabilities of nanotechnology and it makes a lot of sense, so that we don't waste treatment capacity in targeting and removing things that are not as important as the things that make us more sick in water.

Pulse of the Planet is made possible in part by the Center for Earth and Environmental Nanotechnology and the National Science Foundation.