A research collaboration between the Adolphe Merkle Institute and Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University has been awarded special funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation as part of the agency’s new SPIRIT program.
The project participants will investigate new types of bio-inspired polymer membranes with directional and/or switchable water transport characteristics, develop a fundamental understanding of the structure-property relationships of these systems, and create the scientific knowledge that may serve as basis for the future development of advanced membrane technologies. The project builds on research carried out previously at both institutions. Researchers from Professor Christoph Weder’s Polymer Chemistry & Materials group recently discovered that the protective skin layer of ivy and olive leaves displays asymmetric water transport characteristics and successfully mimicked this function in artificial membranes. The groups of Professors Hathaikarn Manuspiya and Stephan Dubas at Chulalongkorn University’s Petroleum and Petrochemical College in turn are working on materials and processes that are useful to improve the properties of such bio-inspired membranes. The new collaboration between the three groups will focus both on the development of nonporous membranes, whose characteristics will be optimized for smart packaging applications, and of porous membranes, whose properties will be tailored for use in oil/water separations.
The collaboration emerges from a long-standing partnership between AMI and the Petroleum and Petrochemical College at Chulalongkorn University, where Weder has served as a visiting Professor since 2003, co-advised more than a dozen MS and PhD researchers, and collaborated with several faculty members, including Manuspiya and Dubas. The AMI also regularly hosts visiting MS and PhD students from the College and recruited several PhD students and postdoctoral researchers from the program.
The SPIRIT program aims to facilitate knowledge exchange between Swiss researchers and colleagues in selected countries. Funding is awarded to projects with clearly defined goals that are submitted by research consortia from two to four countries. The grants contribute to the education of researchers in all participating countries, and supports the new membrane research with a total of CHF 500,000 over four years.