Rahul R. Nair

2024 United Kingdom Award Winner — Faculty

Rahul R. Nair

Current Position:
Professor of Materials Physics; Carlsberg/Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair

The University of Manchester

Materials Science & Nanotechnology

Recognized for: Pioneering research in two-dimensional (2D) materials-based membranes, addressing global challenges. Nair's work on graphene oxide and other 2D materials membranes highlights their potential in various applications: water filtration and seawater desalination, organic solvent nanofiltration, and intelligent membranes for filtration and biomedical uses. Additionally, his research has provided valuable insights into the movement of water and other molecules in nanocapillaries, which differ from their bulk behavior.


Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Graphene and Two-dimensional Materials, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, Nanofluidics, Membrane Technology, Materials physics

Previous Positions: 

  • MSc, Mahatma Gandhi University, India
  • Project Assistant, Indian Institute of Science, India
  • PhD and Postdoctoral Fellow, The University of Manchester (Advisor: Andre Geim)
  • Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Royal Society University Research Fellow, and Reader, The University of Manchester

Research Summary:

In the face of escalating environmental challenges, the pivotal role of novel materials in driving innovation toward a sustainable future cannot be overstated. Rahul Raveendran Nair, PhD, stands at the forefront of these transformative developments, championing ingenious solutions to humanity's most pressing issues, including water desalination and more.

Nair's groundbreaking work began with the recognition of the unparalleled potential of graphene oxide (GO) in water filtration. GO, a chemical derivative of graphene, represents a two-dimensional sheet of carbon atoms adorned with oxygen-containing functional groups. In a seminal moment in 2012, Nair demonstrated that water traverses GO membranes with exceptional speed, while no other liquids and no gases can permeate at all. This discovery catalyzed the now-flourishing field of GO membrane research for filtration and separation applications.

Further research by Nair showcased that GO membranes act as atomic-scale sieves, allowing water to pass through while blocking salts and other molecules. This opens the possibility of using GO membranes for seawater desalination. Compared with mainstream water desalination membranes, these membranes offer better energy-efficient water desalination processes, revolutionizing the water treatment landscape. Additionally, Nair’s research has also demonstrated that these membranes can be employed in organic solvent nanofiltration (OSN), which is the separation of different organic compounds from an organic solvent, relevant to several industrial processes.

Beyond conventional filtration, Nair’s pioneering efforts extended to the development of "smart" and “intelligent” membranes. His innovations included the integration of electrically conductive filaments into GO membranes, enabling precise control over water permeation from ultrafast flow to complete blockage by electricity. In another work, Nair developed intelligent membranes based on molybdenum disulfide that can alter their properties depending on the environmental pH and can remember how permeable they were before. These discoveries hold the potential to revolutionize diverse fields, including artificial biological systems, tissue engineering, drug delivery, and neuromorphic computing.

“Energy-efficient and environmentally friendly separation technologies are crucial for sustainable development. My research focuses on studying molecular transport through two-dimensional nanocapillaries and exploring its potential applications in water filtration and other separation technologies. I am delighted to learn that I have been selected as the Blavatnik Laureate in Physical Sciences and Engineering. I am grateful to my past and present research group members, collaborators, and mentors for their contributions to this success.”

Key Publications: 

  1. Q. Yang, Y. Su, C. Chi, et al., R.R. Nair. Ultrathin Graphene-based Membrane with Precise Molecular Sieving and Ultrafast Solvent Permeation. Nature Materials, 2017.
  2. J. Abraham, K.S. Vasu, C.D. Williams, et al., R.R. Nair. Tunable Sieving of Ions Using Graphene Oxide Membranes. Nature Nanotechnology, 2017.
  3. K.-G. Zhou, K.S. Vasu, C.T. Cherian, et al., R.R. Nair. Electrically Controlled Water Permeation through Graphene Oxide Membranes. Nature, 2018.
  4. C.Y. Hu, A. Achari, P. Rowe, et al., R.R. Nair. pH-dependent Water Permeability Switching and Its Memory in MoS2 Membranes. Nature, 2023.

Other Honors: 

2023  Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair, Royal Academy of Engineering
2021  International Cooperation Award for Young Scientists, Chinese Academy of Sciences
2018  Lee Hsun Lecture Award on Materials Science, Institute of Metal Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences
2018  Creativity Prize, Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water 
2018  Philip Leverhulme Prize, The Leverhulme Trust
2015  The Moseley Medal and Prize, Institute of Physics
2015  Young Scientist Prize, The International Union of Pure and Applied Physics
2015  Starting Grant, European Research Council
2014  Royal Society University Research Fellowship, The Royal Society
2012  Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, The Leverhulme Trust


In the Media: 

Financial Times Graphene Filters Change the Economics of Clean Water

BBC NewsGraphene-based Sieve Turns Seawater into Drinking Water

Sky NewsScientists Create Graphene 'Sieve' to Turn Seawater into Drinking Water

BBC NewsMiracle Material Graphene Can Distil Booze, Says Study

Aljazeera - UK Scientists Use Graphene Filter to Make Dirty Water Drinkable

Wired  – This Material Will Power the Future — If Somebody Can Profit From It

CNNGraphene Sieve Could Make Seawater Drinkable

Nanowerk NewsIntelligent Membranes with Memories Make Next-generation Smart Filters

Phys.org NewsGraphene Smart Membranes Can Control Water

Chemistry ViewsGraphene Oxide Membranes for Organic Solvent Filtration