Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Chemical and Materials Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Barbara L. Knutson


Selectively permeable biological membranes composed of lipophilic barriers inspire the design of biomimetic carrier-mediated membranes for aqueous solute separation. This work imparts selective permeability to lipid-filled pores of silica thin film composite membranes using carrier molecules that reside in the lipophilic self-assemblies. The lipids confined inside the pores of silica are proven to be a more effective barrier than bilayers formed on the porous surface through vesicle fusion, which is critical for quantifying the function of an immobilized carrier. The ability of a lipophilic carrier embedded in the lipid bilayer to reversibly bind the target solute and transport it through the membrane is demonstrated. Through the functionalization of the silica surface with enzymes, enzymatic catalysis and biomimetic separations can be combined on this nanostructured composite platform. The successful development of biomimetic nanocomposite membrane can provide for efficient dilute aqueous solute upgrading or separations using engineered carrier/catalyst/support systems.

While the carrier-mediated biomimetic membranes hold great potential, fully understanding of the transport processes in composite synthetic membranes is essential for improve the membrane performance. Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS) technique is demonstrated to be a useful tool for characterizing the thin film pore accessibility. Furthermore, the effect of lipid bilayer preparation methods on the silica thin film (in the form of pore enveloping, pore filling) on ion transport is explored, as a lipid bilayer with high electrically insulation is essential for detecting activity of proteins or biomimetic carriers in the bilayer. This study provides insights for making better barriers on mesoporous support for carrier-mediated membrane separation process.

Porous silica nanoparticles (pSNPs) with pore sizes appropriate for biomolecule loading are potential for encapsulating dsRNA within the pores to achieve effective delivery of dsRNA to insects for RNA interference (RNAi). The mobility of dsRNA in the nanopores of the pSNPs is expected to have a functional effect on delivery of dsRNA to insects. The importance of pores to a mobile dsRNA network is demonstrated by the lack of measurable mobility for both lengths of RNA on nonporous materials. In addition, when the dsRNA could not penetrate the pores, dsRNA mobility is also not measurable at the surface of the particle. Thus, the pores seem to serve as a “sink” in providing a mobile network of dsRNA on the surface of the particle. This work successfully demonstrates the loading of RNA on functionalized pSNPs and identified factors that affects RNA loading and releasing, which provides basis for the delivery of RNA-loaded silica particles in vivo.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)