Abstract: Nature is a supreme design that inspires scientists to develop smart systems. In the realm of separation technology, biological membranes have been an ideal model for synthetic membranes due to their ultrahigh permeability, sharp selectivity and stimuli-response. In this research, fabrications of bioinspired membranes from block copolymers were studied. Membranes with isoporous morphology were mainly prepared using self-assembly and non-solvent induced phase separation (SNIPS).
An effective method that can dramatically shorten the path for designing new isoporous membranes from block copolymers via SNIPS was first proposed by predetermining a trend line computed from the solvent properties, interactions and copolymer block sizes of previously-obtained successful systems. Application of the method to new copolymer systems and fundamental studies on the block copolymer self-assembly were performed. Furthermore, the manufacture of bioinspired membranes was explored using (1) poly(styrene-b-4-hydroxystyrene-b-styrene) (PS-b-PHS-b-PS), (2) poly(styrene-b-butadiene-b-styrene) (PS-b-PB-b-PS) and (3) poly(styrene-b-γ-benzyl-L-glutamate) (PS-b-PBLG) copolymers via SNIPS. The structure formation was investigated using small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) and time-resolved grazing-Incidence SAXS. The PS-b-PHS-b-PS membranes showed preferential transport for proteins, presumably due to the hydrogen bond interactions within the channels, electrostatic attraction and suitable pore dimension. Furthermore, well-defined nanochannels with pore sizes of around 4 nm based on PS-b-PB-b-PS copolymers could serve as an excellent platform to fabricate bioinspired channels due to the modifiable butadiene blocks.
Photolytic addition of thioglycolic acid was demonstrated without sacrificing the self-assembled morphology, which led to a five-fold increase in water permeance compared to that of the unmodified. Membranes with a unique feather-like structure and a lamellar morphology for dialysis and nanofiltration applications were obtained from PS-b-PBLG copolymers, which exhibited a hierarchical self-assembled morphology with confined α-helical polypeptide domains.
Our results suggest that bioinspired nanochannels can be designed via block copolymer self-assembly using classical methods of membrane preparation. Investigation of the membrane formation mechanism leads us to a better understanding on the design strategies for the preparation of self-assembled nanochannels from block copolymers. In further outlook, our research could give a contribution to the discovery of future generation materials for water purification and desalination, as well as biological separation.