Selective separation of similarly sized proteins with tunable nanoporous block copolymer membranes

Xiaoyan Qiu, Haizhou Yu, Madhavan Karunakaran, Neelakanda Pradeep, Suzana P. Nunes, Klaus Viktor Peinemann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

235 Scopus citations


An integral asymmetric membrane was fabricated in a fast and one-step process by combining the self-assembly of an amphiphilic block copolymer (PS-b-P4VP) with nonsolvent-induced phase separation. The structure was found to be composed of a thin layer of densely packed highly ordered cylindrical channels with uniform pore sizes perpendicular to the surface on top of a nonordered sponge-like layer. The as-assembled membrane obtained a water flux of more than 3200 L m-2 h-1 bar-1, which was at least an order of magnitude higher than the water fluxes of commercially available membranes with comparable pore sizes, making this membrane particularly well suited to size-selective and charge-based separation of biomolecules. To test the performance of the membrane, we conducted diffusion experiments at the physiological pH of 7.4 using bovine serum albumin (BSA) and globulin-γ, two proteins with different diameters but too close in size (2-fold difference in molecular mass) to be efficiently separated via conventional dialysis membrane processes. The diffusion rate differed by a factor of 87, the highest value reported to date. We also analyzed charge-based diffusive transport and separation of two proteins of similar molecular weight (BSA and bovine hemoglobin (BHb)) through the membrane as a function of external pH. The membrane achieved a selectivity of about 10 at pH 4.7, the isoelectric point (pI) of BSA. We then positively charged the membrane to improve the separation selectivity. With the modified membrane BSA was completely blocked when the pH was 7.0, the pI of BHb, while BHb was completely blocked at pH 4.7. Our results demonstrate the potential of our asymmetric membrane to efficiently separate biological substances/pharmaceuticals in bioscience, biotechnology, and biomedicine applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)768-776
Number of pages9
JournalACS Nano
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 22 2013


  • block copolymer membranes
  • phase separation
  • quaternization
  • selective protein separation
  • self-assembly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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