Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin–Madison

Creating “Button-Snap Latching” to Make Artificial Materials Inspired by Membrane Biology

Most artificial membranes used in water purification, electrochemistry, or other chemical processes are inert. In contrast, the membranes that encapsulate the cells in our bodies perform thousands of functions using membrane proteins. Membrane proteins transmit chemicals or signal a response between the inside and outside of the cell. Signaling often occurs via allostery, in which the binding of a molecule on one side of the membrane induces a conformational change of the membrane protein on the other. This project will create artificial membranes that can communicate information across their interface in an analogous manner. The team has coined the term for its method as “Button-Snap Latching,” where they place different macromolecules on either side of the membrane, one a Button and the other a Snap, tethered through a hole. An impulse felt on one side can alter the function on the other. Button-Snap Latching is a new paradigm for the functionalization of materials and could enable next generation bandages, body sensors, and other smart materials.


Padma Gopalan, professor of materials science and engineering



Michael Arnold, professor of materials science and engineering

Martin Zanni, professor of chemistry