An integral asymmetric membrane was fabricated in a fast and one-step process by combining the self-assembly of an amphiphilic block copolymer (PS-b-P4VP) with nonsolvent-induced phase separation. The structure was found to be composed of a thin layer of densely packed highly ordered cylindrical channels with uniform pore sizes perpendicular to the surface on top of a nonordered sponge-like layer. The as-assembled membrane obtained a water flux of more than 3200 L m–2 h–1 bar–1, which was at least an order of magnitude higher than the water fluxes of commercially available membranes with comparable pore sizes, making this membrane particularly well suited to size-selective and charge-based separation of biomolecules. To test the performance of the membrane, we conducted diffusion experiments at the physiological pH of 7.4 using bovine serum albumin (BSA) and globulin-γ, two proteins with different diameters but too close in size (2-fold difference in molecular mass) to be efficiently separated via conventional dialysis membrane processes. The diffusion rate differed by a factor of 87, the highest value reported to date. We also analyzed charge-based diffusive transport and separation of two proteins of similar molecular weight (BSA and bovine hemoglobin (BHb)) through the membrane as a function of external pH. The membrane achieved a selectivity of about 10 at pH 4.7, the isoelectric point (pI) of BSA. We then positively charged the membrane to improve the separation selectivity. With the modified membrane BSA was completely blocked when the pH was 7.0, the pI of BHb, while BHb was completely blocked at pH 4.7. Our results demonstrate the potential of our asymmetric membrane to efficiently separate biological substances/pharmaceuticals in bioscience, biotechnology, and biomedicine applications.
In this study, the kinetics of vesicle formation of ABA amphiphilic triblock copolymers from an initially homogeneous state was theoretically and experimentally investigated by adding a selective solvent into the system. The pathway of spontaneous vesicle formation depended greatly on the selective solvent addition rate. At a slow addition rate, the pathway followed three stages: (1) the amphiphilic triblock copolymer combined into a large irregular aggregation; (2) the large irregular aggregation broke into big irregular spheres; and (3) some hydrophilic molecules in the big irregular spheres diffused toward the surface, and some hydrophilic molecules diffused toward the center, forming vesicles. However, at a fast addition rate, the pathway was as follows: (1) the amphiphilic triblock copolymer aggregated into many small spheres; (2) the small spheres merged to form rod-like micelles first and then oblate membranes; and (3) the oblate membranes closed up to form vesicles. This pathway difference for vesicle formation can be attributed to the existence of many metastable states in the system. This finding not only provides new insight into the origins of vesicles but also provides further understanding on the self-assembly kinetics of amphiphilic block copolymers in a selective solvent.
The design of micro-or nanoparticles that can encapsulate sensitive molecules such as drugs, hormones, proteins or peptides is of increasing importance for applications in biotechnology and medicine. Examples are micelles, liposomes and vesicles. The tiny and, in most cases, hollow spheres are used as vehicles for transport and controlled administration of pharmaceutical drugs or nutrients. Here we report a simple strategy to fabricate microspheres by block copolymer self-assembly. The microsphere particles have monodispersed nanopores that can act as pH-responsive gates. They contain a highly porous internal structure, which is analogous to the Schwarz P structure. The internal porosity of the particles contributes to their high sorption capacity and sustained release behaviour. We successfully separated similarly sized proteins using these particles. The ease of particle fabrication by macrophase separation and self-assembly, and the robustness of the particles makes them ideal for sorption, separation, transport and sustained delivery of pharmaceutical substances.
We have investigated the effect of shear flow on the formation of ring-shaped ABA triblock copolymer (P4VP 43 -b-PS 260 -b-P4VP 43 ) micelles. The results reveal that shear flow plays an important role in the formation of the rings. Both ring size and its distribution are found to be dependent sensitively on the stirring rate. Sizable rings are more likely to be formed at moderate stirring rate. Interestingly, the ring formation mechanism is also dependent on the shear flow. Copolymers are likely to form rings via end-to-end cylinder connection at low stirring rates, whereas they tend to form rings via the pathway of the rod-sphere-vesicle-ring at high stirring rates.
The combination of nonsolvent-induced phase separation and the self-assembly of block copolymers can lead to asymmetric membranes with a thin highly ordered isoporous skin layer. The effective pore size of such membranes is usually larger than 15 nm. We reduced the pore size of these membranes by electroless gold deposition. We demonstrate that the pore sizes can be controlled precisely between 3 and 20 nm leading to a tunable sharp size discrimination in filtration processes. Besides fractionation of nanoparticles and biomaterials, controlled drug delivery is an attractive potential application.
The self‐assembly of block copolymers is an emerging strategy to produce isoporous ultrafiltration membranes. However, thus far, it has not been possible to bridge the gap from ultra‐ to nanofiltration and decrease the pore size of self‐assembled block copolymer membranes to below 5 nm without post‐treatment. It is now reported that the self‐assembly of blends of two chemically interacting copolymers can lead to highly porous membranes with pore diameters as small as 1.5 nm. The membrane containing an ultraporous, 60 nm thin separation layer can fully reject solutes with molecular weights of 600 g mol−1 in aqueous solutions with a water flux that is more than one order of magnitude higher than the permeance of commercial nanofiltration membranes. Simulations of the membrane formation process by dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) were used to explain the dramatic observed pore size reduction combined with an increase in water flux.
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