Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2017
Photoacid-Sensitized Polymers as Light-Driven Ion Pumps for Photodialysis of Salt Water and Mapping Functional Neuron Connectivity
A UC Irvine chemistry professor has received a prestigious award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) to develop specialized dye-containing membranes that one day might turn salt water into potable water in a deceptively simple-seeming device that resembles a bottle.
Shane Ardo and his research group are pioneering the development of light-driven “ion pumps” that consist of ion-exchange membranes covalently modified with custom photoacid dyes. These dye molecules convert light directly into ionic current by producing free ions after light absorption.
“The intended mechanism of these materials is unique and could be game-changing,” Ardo said, because it bypasses the generation of an electric current traditionally utilized in electrodialysis. (Electrodialysis is a desalination process where an applied electric field drives ion movement across semipermeable membranes.) Charged salt atoms, or ions, are forced out of a compartment containing salt water and through charged membranes, leaving behind only potable water.
“On the level of a single electrochemical cell, traditional electrodialysis wastes approximately 85 percent of the input energy,” Ardo said, adding that he and his team have already developed new ion-exchange materials and that his proposed mechanistic processes does not waste similar amounts of energy.
Ardo plans to design, computationally model, synthesize, and characterize new light-activated photoacid dyes, anchor them to various potential membrane materials, and study their fundamental chemistry and physics as they interact with light.
His work is funded by RCSA’s Cottrell Scholar Award, which requires the recipient to demonstrate innovation in science education as well as fundamental research. Ardo said he plans to “completely re-design graduate-level courses in electrochemistry” by introducing a substantial laboratory component, restructuring lecture content, and providing video-recorded lectures.