Artificial water channel from UT Austin has a cluster-forming organic nano-architecture that rapidly transports water molecules through a selective membrane.


  • Lower costs
  • Efficient


  • Desalination systems
  • Water filtration
  • Wastewater treatment

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 6: Clean Water & Sanitation

  • Goal 13: Climate Action

The Challenge

Membrane-based technologies play a significant role in the efficiency of water purification and desalination, as many desalination plants operate through reverse osmosis. In reverse osmosis, pressure is exerted onto salt water, pushing it through a semipermeable membrane. As water passes through the membrane, most dissolved salts and impurities are left behind. However, synthetic membranes used in desalination are fairly limited by the tradeoff between permeability and selectivity; highly permeable membranes that allow molecules to pass through the membrane quickly may not separate salt and impurities entirely.

Innovation Details

Artificial water channels are built of synthetic molecules inspired by the structure of highly selective and highly permeable aquaporins in biological membranes. In the artificial water channels, an organic nanoarchitecture called peptide-appended hybrid[4]arene, or PAH[4], forms clusters and channels within lipid membranes, providing paths for selective water permeation. Water molecules pass through these channels forming “water wires”––dense chains of molecules that move quickly, like a train and its cars. The selective channels have rates of efficiency comparable to that of natural aquaporin water channels, producing a high-performance, energy-efficient separation membrane.

Biomimicry Story

Aquaporins are a family of proteins that are found in all kingdoms of life. By forming narrow, positively charged tunnels across cell membranes, they allow water molecules to pass while excluding most other molecules. This allows cells to regulate how much water is moving in and out of them.