Innovation and Partnerships Office

Boron Nitride Nanopores for DNA Sequencing, Water Desalination and Gas / Liquid Separation 2015-045


  • DNA sequencing for large scale clinical applications
  • Molecular analysis for chemical manufacturing
  • Water desalination
  • Gas / liquid separation for manufacturing of batteries, air filtration devices, and alcohol


  • More scalable than biological nanopores
  • Repeatable shape and size (as small as a single atom)


Berkeley Lab researchers led by Alex Zettl have developed a technology for creating nanopores of controllable sizes and shapes using single- or few-atomic-layer-thickness crystal hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) membranes and the electron beam of a transmission electron microscope (TEM) under different temperatures. Nanopores created range from single atom vacancies to 50 nm in length, and possible shapes include triangle, circle, oval, and hexagon.

The nanopores can be integrated into nanodevices containing a single pore or many pores separating reservoirs of gas or liquid. In this way, the technology can be applied to DNA sequencing and molecular analysis, gas / liquid separation, and water desalination with pores sized to enable target analytes or species to pass through the membrane separating reservoirs while other targets or selected impurities are blocked.

This technology represents an improvement over biological nanopores, which are less scalable than solid state nanopores, and graphene nanopores, which do not yield holes of repeatable size or geometry. In addition, the edges of a graphene nanopore, due to its organic nature, may attract functional groups that impede measurement.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Proven principle.

STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.