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Smart membranes at the flick of a switch

Researchers from Adelaide University have used Raijin to work out how to control the transport of molecules across membranes using a ‘light switch’.

These artificial smart membranes harbor ‘photoswitchable’ peptides that change shape depending on what light wavelength they are exposed to.

“The peptides switch between their cis and trans states on exposure to 364 nm and 440 nm wavelength light, respectively, which provides the ability to control their molecular geometry,” explains lead researcher Dr Jingxian Yu.

“We can selectively immobilise the peptides along the internal surface of the membrane pores in order to change the pore diameter, which regulates the transport of molecules across the membrane.”

Dr Yu and his team used Raijin to calculate theoretical evidence of how the transport of molecules through these peptide-modified nanoporous alumina membranes could be regulated by light, before fabricating the real thing.

Nanoporous membrane.

Nanoporous membrane.

The project required more than 2,000 hours of computing time on Raijin.

“NCI offers world-class computing power,” says Dr Yu.

The capacity for ‘on-demand molecular transport’ will provide insight into central biological processes such as protein channels and ion pumps.

“The controlled transport of molecules across membranes is also central to many highly valuable applications such as desalination and on-demand drug delivery,” says Dr Yu.

The research is published in Advanced Materials.

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