Size effect in ion transport through angstrom-scale slits

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Science  27 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6362, pp. 511-513
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5275

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Squeezing through a hole

Transport of an ion is usually directly related to its hydrated radius and assumed to be nonflexible. Either a hydrated ion fits through an aperture or it does not, and shape should play a dominant role rather than charge. Esfandiar et al. created nanofluidic devices by stacking structured bulk materials, including graphite, boron nitride, and molybdenum disulfide. They investigated the transport of ions in aqueous solutions through the nanochannels in the devices. Unexpectedly, they observed different behavior for ions of similar hydrated size but opposite charge.

Science, this issue p. 511


In the field of nanofluidics, it has been an ultimate but seemingly distant goal to controllably fabricate capillaries with dimensions approaching the size of small ions and water molecules. We report ion transport through ultimately narrow slits that are fabricated by effectively removing a single atomic plane from a bulk crystal. The atomically flat angstrom-scale slits exhibit little surface charge, allowing elucidation of the role of steric effects. We find that ions with hydrated diameters larger than the slit size can still permeate through, albeit with reduced mobility. The confinement also leads to a notable asymmetry between anions and cations of the same diameter. Our results provide a platform for studying the effects of angstrom-scale confinement, which is important for the development of nanofluidics, molecular separation, and other nanoscale technologies.

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