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Ionic exclusion phase transition in neutral and weakly charged cylindrical nanopores

Sahin Buyukdagli, Manoel Manghi, John Palmeri

par Manoel Manghi - 13 juillet 2010

A field theoretic variational approach is introduced to study ion penetration into water-filled cylindrical nanopores in equilibrium with a bulk reservoir [S. Buyukdagli, M. Manghi, and J. Palmeri, Phys. Rev. Lett. 105, 158103 (2010)]. It is shown that an ion located in a neutral pore undergoes two opposing mechanisms : (i) a deformation of its surrounding ionic cloud of opposite charge, with respect to the reservoir, which increases the surface tension and tends to exclude ions from the pore, and (ii) an attractive contribution to the ion self-energy due to the increased screening with ion penetration of the repulsive image forces associated with the dielectric jump between the solvent and the pore wall. For pore radii around 1 nm and bulk concentrations lower than 0.2 mol/l, this mechanism leads to a first-order phase transition, similar to capillary “evaporation,” from an ionic-penetration state to an ionic-exclusion state. The discontinuous phase transition exists within the biological concentration range (∼ 0.15 mol/l) for small enough membrane dielectric constants (ϵ_m < 5). In the case of a weakly charged pore, counterion penetration exhibits a nonmonotonic behavior and is characterized by two regimes : at low reservoir concentrations or small pore radii, coions are excluded and counterions enter the pore to enforce electroneutrality ; dielectric repulsion (image forces) remain strong and the counterion partition coefficient decreases with increasing reservoir concentration up to a characteristic value. For larger reservoir concentrations, image forces are screened and the partition coefficient of counterions increases with the reservoir concentration, as in the neutral pore case. Large surface charge densities (> 2 × 10^(−3) e/nm^2 ) suppress the discontinuous transition by reducing the energy barrier for ion penetration and shifting the critical point toward very small pore sizes and reservoir concentrations. Our variational method is also compared to a previous self-consistent approach and yields important quantitative corrections. The role of the curvature of dielectric interfaces is highlighted by comparing ionic penetration into slit and cylindrical pores. Finally, a charge regulation model is introduced in order to explain the key effect of pH on ionic exclusion and explain the origin of observed time-dependent nanopore electric conductivity fluctuations and their correlation with those of the pore surface chargeficient of counterions increases with the reservoir electrolyte concentration.