Nanoporous graphene is a one-atom-thick form of carbon with tiny holes that can block salt ions while letting water molecules through, enabling the production of potable water from the world’s virtually limitless supply of seawater. The new graphene membrane was first proposed last June by MIT graduate student David Cohen-Tanugi and Jeffrey C. Grossman, the Carl Richard Soderberg Associate Professor of Power Engineering in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, in the journal Nano Letters.
"Using materials science to find solutions to water challenges is unusual. We're trying to bring a new perspective to this problem," Grossman says.
Thanks to its atomic thickness and well-defined hole structure, nanoporous graphene could reduce the cost and energy footprint of water desalination. In its ranking, Smithsonian magazine mused that nanoporous graphene might one day provide “a way to solve many of the world’s water problems once and for all.”
The ranking is published yearly on Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog. Other top awardees for 2012 included the Higgs Boson and NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars.
The project was funded by a seed grant from the MIT Energy Initiative and by a Schlumberger-MIT Energy Fellowship.