Inspired by the process of phagocytosis when our cells swallow foreign objects – the barrier itself is made of a self-healing liquid, similar to a cell membrane. To make the magical membrane researchers need only a metal ring and two ingredients: deionized water and sodium dodecyl sulfate ( SDS), a compound commonly used in laundry detergent.
When researchers tested their filter, they found it could be repeatedly penetrated without rupturing, even after 3 hours of constant prodding. It could also hold back gas while letting bigger objects through and even kept the lid on a beaker full of scrambling fruit flies. And by varying the concentration of SDS, scientists could finely tune the surface tension of the membrane- the key to its remarkable abilities.
At very high levels of tension, only the larger or faster – moving particles make it through before the liquid seals together again. But at low levels of tension, smaller or slower-moving particles can do the same thing. That means scientists could use it in a variety of ways: as a surgical membrane that blocks out dust and germs, a barrier against infection – transmitting insects, or even as a thin film that could trap odours in a waterless toilet.
What’s more, the membrane can clear itself: small, trapped particles are easily transported across it’s slanting surface and off to the side, keeping the membrane free of contaminants. The resulting filter may make for more successful surgeries and better odor eaters. But if you want the perfect cup of joe, you might want to stick to an old fashion filter.
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