Optimal transport and colossal ionic mechano-conductance in graphene crown ethers

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Science Advances  12 Jul 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 7, eaaw5478
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw5478


Biological ion channels balance electrostatic and dehydration effects to yield large ion selectivity alongside high transport rates. These macromolecular systems are often interrogated through point mutations of their pore domain, limiting the scope of mechanistic studies. In contrast, we demonstrate that graphene crown ether pores afford a simple platform to directly investigate optimal ion transport conditions, i.e., maximum current densities and selectivity. Crown ethers are known for selective ion adsorption. When embedded in graphene, however, transport rates lie below the drift-diffusion limit. We show that small pore strains (1%) give rise to a colossal (100%) change in conductance. This process is electromechanically tunable, with optimal transport in a primarily diffusive regime, tending toward barrierless transport, as opposed to a knock-on mechanism. These observations suggest a novel setup for nanofluidic devices while giving insight into the physical foundation of evolutionarily optimized ion transport in biological pores.

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