What do wastewater treatment and tissue engineering have in common? Not much, on the surface. Yet, in a remarkable feat of technological connectivity, MIT researchers have developed a new membrane that can serve both needs. Membrane-based filtration systems are a simple and effective way to remove solid materials from water, but because the pores are easily clogged, maintenance costs are high. MIT researchers led by polymer physicist Anne Mayes have created a membrane that includes a “comb” polymer at its surface. The polymer’s two-nanometer-long bristles attract water molecules, which create a barrier against pore-clogging oils and proteins.
Mayes’s team has also created a version of the polymer with biological molecules attached to the bristles to attract specific types of cells; such a material could be used to create artificial tissue for wound-healing and other applications. MIT is in the process of licensing both technologies.