'Sifting' liquid at the molecular level: Method uses nanotubes to separate liquids

Jul 17, 2012

Drexel University engineers continue to drive research into the use of carbon nanotubes, straw-like structures that are more than 1,000 times thinner than a single human hair. Their most recent development uses the tiny tubes to separate liquids within a solution.

The researchers have shown that individual carbon nanotubes can act as a separation channel that would force two differing molecules to separate as easily as oil and water. For example, the molecules that comprise two chemically distinct will interact differently with the walls of the nanotube as the liquids flow through it. This will cause one of the liquids to drain through the nanoscale straw faster than the other, thus forcing a separation between the two liquids.

This technology could prove useful in a number of applications, including forensic studies with very small sample sizes and studying molecules extracted from individual cells. would be able to analyze trace evidence, even down to a single cell or invisible stains.

"We believe that this research will lead to development of tools for analysis on single living cells and push the limits of to even smaller scales and to single organelle columns," said Dr. Yury Gogotsi, director of the A.J. Drexel Nanotechnology Institute.

Gogotsi and Dr. Gary Friedman, director of the Drexel Plasma Medicine Lab and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, were the lead researchers on a study about applications of nanotubes for cellular chromatography that was recently published in Nature Publishing Group's Scientific Reports. The research was funded by a grant from W.M. Keck Foundation and the National Science Foundation's National Interdisciplinary Research Teams program.

The carbon nanotubes used in this study measure as small as 70 in outer diameter and are currently the smallest chromatography columns ever made. The columns are mechanically robust and are able to withstand repeated bending and compression. These characteristics are vital for applications at the cellular level, as the tiny tubes' durability allows them to penetrate cell membranes.

Continued nanotube research by Drexel engineers will examine the development of electrochemical and optical tools.

Explore further: Nanoparticle technology triples the production of biogas

Related Stories

Cells selectively absorb short nanotubes

Mar 30, 2007

DNA-wrapped single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) shorter than about 200 nanometers readily enter into human lung cells and so may pose an increased risk to health, according to scientists at the National ...

A Better Way to Make Nanotubes

Jan 05, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A compound synthesized for the first time by Berkeley Lab scientists could help to push nanotechnology out of the lab and into faster electronic devices, more powerful sensors, and other advanced ...

Recommended for you

Nanoparticle technology triples the production of biogas

8 hours ago

Researchers of the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2), a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence, and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) have developed the new BiogàsPlus, a technology which allows ...

Research unlocks potential of super-compound

10 hours ago

Researchers at The University of Western Australia's have discovered that nano-sized fragments of graphene - sheets of pure carbon - can speed up the rate of chemical reactions.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jscroft
1 / 5 (1) Jul 18, 2012
Is it Maxwell's Demon?
JoeBuddha
not rated yet Jul 18, 2012
Nanotubes. Is there anything they CAN'T do?