In this project funded by the Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry Program of the Chemistry Division, Prof. Siwy and her group at the University of California, Irvine will study ionic and molecular transport through artificial nanopores of fully controlled geometry and surface chemistry. Research will be focused on understanding how interactions between passing species and the walls of nanopores can be harnessed to create interesting systems to guide and amplify ionic and molecular signals. The research is inspired by properties of biological membranes in a cell that contain multiple channels of different functionalities, acting in concert to support physiological functions. Traveling of the nerve signal down an axon and relay of information between neurons, are examples of complex processes, which require multiple pores connected in parallel in nerve cell membranes. The Siwy group will perform fundamental studies on finding conditions in which transport of ions through one nanopore influences ionic and molecular transport through a neighboring pore embedded in the same membrane. They will investigate this issue by systematic varying the distance between two nanopores from a few nm to a micrometer scale. Connecting two nanopores with transport characteristics mimicking properties of potassium and sodium voltage-gated biological channels will result in the preparation of an artificial ionic neuron membrane. The research will use previous findings from the Siwy group on the influence of surface charge and surface charge patterns on the pore walls on ionic and molecular transport.
This project will provide interdisciplinary training opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students in surface chemistry, nanofabrication, biophysics and biotechnology. The students will learn state of the art fabrication tools to prepare nanopores with an opening diameter as small as 1 nm, tuning chemical properties of nanopore walls, and characterizing the structures electrochemically. The project will also lay fundamental grounds for the formation of synthetic equivalents of biological systems such as neuron, which could be directly applicable in building an artificial cell. The performed research will provide fundamental understanding of the formation of ionic circuits applicable in biological sensors and lab-on-the chip systems. The award has an outreach program that will be realized in collaboration with the Laboratory Experience in Physical Sciences (LEAPS) initiative, created at the University of California, Irvine in spring 2012. A hundred middle and high school students each year will be given an opportunity to visit UC Irvine and the Siwy group to perform experiments visualizing importance of nanotechnology in everyday life.