Membranes are ubiquitous functional elements used in separation processes. An ideal membrane will stop certain species penetrating it while having excellent transport properties for others. Membranes are used in synthetic systems such as fuel cells and desalination plants, but are also formed naturally in biological systems. For example all cells use a membrane to contain the cellular contents, while allowing transport of nutrients though the cell wall. I will present our recent work on examining diatoms, which are unicellular algae that grow in water. They have a self assembled silica membrane wall with a regular array of nanopores whose function is very poorly understood. I will outline the unique structure of the pores and our experimental work on understanding their structure to help develop membranes with better performance.

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