Tiny filters measuring just one-atom thick might be the next generation of technology that efficiently separates salt and impurities from water. Researchers report that they have successfully punched subnanoscale holes in graphene, the sheets of bound carbon atoms known to be one of the strongest materials on Earth.
They fired metal ions at the graphene to disrupt the bonds between carbon atoms, which naturally form into hexagonal rings that look like chicken wire. The graphene was then etched with a solution that dissolved the weakened bonds and formed densely packed pores.
“We bombard the graphene with gallium ions at high energy,” said Sean O’Hern, an MIT graduate student who led the research, in a university statement. “That creates defects in the graphene structure, and these defects are more chemically reactive.”