Living cells have a unique ability to control exactly which substances are allowed in and out of them. Associate Professor Andreas Dahlin at Chalmers University of Technology will develop a system that can similarly sort and capture individual molecules. He has developed a special material for this purpose, perforated with channels that are 100 nanometers in diameter. He has covered the channels’ openings with special molecules called polymers. They function as a barrier that prevents molecules from entering the channel. The aim is now to get these polymers to open in a controlled fashion and allow a single desired molecule to enter the channel.
Being able to capture single molecules creates new opportunities for researchers. For example, at present they always study biological molecules in groups, so the experiment only explains how molecules function on average. If researchers can study one molecule at a time, they can obtain greatly more detailed knowledge about their function.
Smart filters could also be used for constructing sensitive detectors, or for isolating specific chemical molecules from complex solutions.
Photo: Markus Marcetic