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Use of tunable nanopore blockade rates to investigate colloidal dispersions

G R Willmott, R Vogel, S S C Yu, L G Groenewegen, G S Roberts, D Kozak, W Anderson and M Trau
J. Phys.: Condens. Matter 22 (2010) 454116 (11pp)

Tunable nanopores fabricated in elastomeric membranes have been used to study the dependence of ionic current blockade rate on the concentration and electrophoretic mobility of particles in aqueous suspensions. A range of nanoparticle sizes, materials and surface functionalities has been tested. Using pressure-driven flow through a pore, the blockade rate for 100 nm carboxylated polystyrene particles was found to be linearly proportional to both transmembrane pressure (between 0 and 1.8 kPa) and particle concentration (between 7 × 108 and 4.5 × 1010 ml − 1). This result can be accurately modelled using Nernst–Planck transport theory, enabling measurement of particle concentrations. Using only an applied potential across a pore, the blockade rates for carboxylic acid and amine coated 500 and 200 nm silica particles were found to correspond to changes in their mobility as a function of the solution pH. Scanning electron microscopy and confocal microscopy have been used to visualize changes in the tunable nanopore geometry in three dimensions as a function of applied mechanical strain. The pores were conical in shape, and changes in pore size were consistent with ionic current measurements. A zone of inelastic deformation adjacent to the pore has been identified as important in the tuning process.

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