Nanopore Valves Enable High-Precision Gas Transport

in MSE Spotlight Faculty, MSE Spotlight Research, NEWS

Research Could Bolster Nanoscale 3D Printing, Catalysis and Sensor Design

By Mark Dwortzan

Assistant Professor Scott Bunch (ME, MSE)
Assistant Professor Scott Bunch (ME, MSE)

A study led by Assistant Professor Scott Bunch (ME, MSE) has demonstrated the ability to measure and control the transport of gas through a single molecule-sized pore in graphene, a strong, flexible material made of one-atom-thick sheets of carbon atoms. By using gold nanoparticles to block and unblock such pores in a graphene membrane, Bunch and his research team have provided the first evidence of controlling the transport of gas through a molecule-sized opening in any existing membrane material.

“These nanopore molecular valves provide the

A composite of atomic force microscope images of pressurized graphene membranes
A composite of atomic force microscope images of pressurized graphene membranes

unique ability to control a single-file flow of molecules, and may lead to important applications in nanoscale 3D printing, catalysis and sensor design,” said Bunch.

Nanoscale 3D printing could be used to manufacture high-precision devices ranging from micro-needles to nano-robots. New applications in catalysis, the acceleration of chemical reactions, could yield new chemical compounds for scientific and commercial applications. The research may also improve the performance of graphene-based separation membranes, which can be used to purify gas, capture carbon from power plant carbon dioxide emissions, and perform other applications.

Bunch and collaborators at Boston University, MIT, University of Colorado and National University of Singapore used two methods to create the nanopores in the graphene membranes. They either applied a voltage pulse with an atomic force microscope, or exposed the graphene to ultraviolet light. They also used an atomic force microscope to monitor the flow of hydrogen, nitrogen and other gases.

The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, is described in the online edition of Nature Nanotechnology.