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Top Story

3D electron microscopy uncovers the complex guts of desalination membranes

Careful sample preparation, electron tomography and quantitative analysis of 3D models provides unique insight into the inner structure of reverse osmosis membranes widely used for saltwater desalination wastewater recycling and home use, according to a team of chemical engineers. These reverse osmosis membranes are layers of material with an active aromatic polyamide layer that allows water molecules through, but screens out 99 to 99.9 percent of the salt. The research team looked at the internal structure of the polyamide film using high-angle annular dark field scanning transmission electron microscopy (HAADF-STEM) tomography. HAADF-STEM's image intensity is directly proportional to the density of the material, allowing mapping of the material to nanoscale resolution. Their discoveries change the way the engineers think about how water moves through this material, because the resistance to flow is not homogeneous and is highest at the membrane surface.

Visit Website | Image credit: Enrique Gomez/Penn State University