A stable porous membrane that is around 100,000 times thinner than the diameter of a human hair has now been successfully developed by a team of researchers.
The membrane consists of two layers of the much exalted "super material" graphene, a two-dimensional film made of carbon atoms, on which the team of researchers, led by Professor Hyung Gyu Park at the Department of Mechanical and Process Engineering at ETH Zurich, etched tiny pores of a precisely defined size.
PhD student Jakob Buchheim, one of the two lead authors of the study, said with a thickness of just two carbon atoms, this is the thinnest porous membrane that is technologically possible to make.
The ultra-thin graphene membrane may one day be used for a range of different purposes, including waterproof clothing.
Kemal Celebi, a postdoc in Park's laboratory and also one of the lead authors of the study, said their membrane is not only very light and flexible, but it is also a thousand fold more breathable than Goretex.
The membrane could also potentially be used to separate gaseous mixtures into their constituent parts or to filter impurities from fluids. The researchers were able to demonstrate for the first time that graphene membranes could be suitable for water filtration.
The researchers also see a potential use for the membrane in devices used for the accurate measurement of gas and fluid flow rates that are crucial to unveiling the physics around mass transfer at nanoscales and separation of chemical mixtures.
The study has been published in the journal Science.