Brian Welch’s goal is to use surface engineering to improve sustainability in the world. He received his PhD at the University of Colorado studying surface modification and thin film deposition. His pioneering work with organic variations of atomic layer deposition (ALD) has led to a pathway for creating desalination membranes. With the ALD technique, Dr. Welch has been able to produce polymer films with precision and control akin to computer chip fabrication. By applying polyamide films to nanofiltration membrane supports, he was able to make reverse osmosis desalination membranes. In comparison to conventional fabrication methods, ALD membranes are ultrathin and ultrasmooth and easily scaled for production: ideal characteristics for high performance commercial membranes.
His work with ALD membranes continues at the Functional Nanostructures and Advanced Imaging Lab at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. ALD has unique processing advantages owing to its layer-by-layer nature. A material film is formed at the surface of an object by dosing reactants one-at-a time. Each dose forms a layer which is essentially one molecule thick. Dr. Welch aims to disrupt the membrane separations field with ALD polymer films that incorporate molecular-level design. The resulting development of low-fouling, highly selective desalination membranes would have great implications for water-stressed regions of the world, including Israel.