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Scientists observe single ions moving through tiny carbon-nanotube channel
Date:9/9/2010

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. For the first time, a team of MIT chemical engineers has observed single ions marching through a tiny carbon-nanotube channel. Such channels could be used as extremely sensitive detectors or as part of a new water-desalination system. They could also allow scientists to study chemical reactions at the single-molecule level.

Carbon nanotubes tiny, hollow cylinders whose walls are lattices of carbon atoms are about 10,000 times thinner than a human hair. Since their discovery nearly 20 years ago, researchers have experimented with them as batteries, transistors, sensors and solar cells, among other applications.

In the Sept. 10 issue of Science, MIT researchers report that charged molecules, such as the sodium and chloride ions that form when salt is dissolved in water, can not only flow rapidly through carbon nanotubes, but also can, under some conditions, do so one at a time, like people taking turns crossing a bridge. The research was led by associate professor Michael Strano.

The new system allows passage of much smaller molecules, over greater distances (up to half a millimeter), than any existing nanochannel. Currently, the most commonly studied nanochannel is a silicon nanopore, made by drilling a hole through a silicon membrane. However, these channels are much shorter than the new nanotube channels (the nanotubes are about 20,000 times longer), so they only permit passage of large molecules such as DNA or polymers anything smaller would move too quickly to be detected.

Strano and his co-authors recent PhD recipient Chang Young Lee, graduate student Wonjoon Choi and postdoctoral associate Jae-Hee Han built their new nanochannel by growing a nanotube across a one-centimeter-by-one-centimeter plate, connecting two water reservoirs. Each reservoir contains an electrode, one positive and one negative. Because electricity can flow only if protons positively charged hydrogen ions, which make up
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Contact: Jen Hirsch
jfhirsch@mit.edu
617-253-1682
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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