Aligned macrocycle pores in ultrathin films for accurate molecular sieving

Zhiwei Jiang, Ruijiao Dong, Austin M. Evans, Niklas Biere, Mahmood A. Ebrahim, Siyao Li, Dario Anselmetti, William R. Dichtel, Andrew G. Livingston*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


Polymer membranes are widely used in separation processes including desalination1, organic solvent nanofiltration2,3 and crude oil fractionation4,5. Nevertheless, direct evidence of subnanometre pores and a feasible method of manipulating their size is still challenging because of the molecular fluctuations of poorly defined voids in polymers6. Macrocycles with intrinsic cavities could potentially tackle this challenge. However, unfunctionalized macrocycles with indistinguishable reactivities tend towards disordered packing in films hundreds of nanometres thick7–9, hindering cavity interconnection and formation of through-pores. Here, we synthesized selectively functionalized macrocycles with differentiated reactivities that preferentially aligned to create well-defined pores across an ultrathin nanofilm. The ordered structure was enhanced by reducing the nanofilm thickness down to several nanometres. This orientated architecture enabled direct visualization of subnanometre macrocycle pores in the nanofilm surfaces, with the size tailored to ångström precision by varying the macrocycle identity. Aligned macrocycle membranes provided twice the methanol permeance and higher selectivity compared to disordered counterparts. Used in high-value separations, exemplified here by enriching cannabidiol oil, they achieved one order of magnitude faster ethanol transport and threefold higher enrichment than commercial state-of-the-art membranes. This approach offers a feasible strategy for creating subnanometre channels in polymer membranes, and demonstrates their potential for accurate molecular separations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-64
Number of pages7
Issue number7925
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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