Tiny transporters

Researchers at the University of Twente in The Netherlands have made intelligent nanocontainers in which molecules can be stored, transported and mixed.

Using polymers containing iron, the nanoscientists made intelligent containers whose “doors” are regulated chemically. The research team, led by Professor Julius Vancso of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology foresees exciting applications in medicine, introducing additives to food or in ultra fast reactions in nanochemistry.

By using iron in the main chain of the polymers, the scientists were able to adjust the permeability of the material via oxidation and reduction reactions, which created the opening and closing mechanisms.

This selective access by which one molecule gets in but another other cannot is the result of the layered structure of the wall of the container. Polymer chains are layered on top of each other and an electrostatic charge keeps them together. Influencing this charge with redox reactions immediately influences the permeability of the wall.

As oxidation and reduction steps take part in numerous biochemical processes in water, the nanocontainers are useful for a variety of biological and biomedical applications. The scientists foresee applications in areas like food additives, medicine and cosmetics. Nanocontainers could also be used in biochemistry to study large numbers of enzyme reactions at the same time and with high throughput.