Nature Materials, Vol.18, No.1, 76-+, 2019
Highly mechanosensitive ion channels from graphene-embedded crown ethers
The ability to tune ionic permeation across nanoscale pores profoundly impacts diverse fields from nanofluidic computing to drug delivery. Here, we take advantage of complex formation between crown ethers and dissolved metal ions to demonstrate graphene-based ion channels highly sensitive to externally applied lattice strain. We perform extensive room-temperature molecular dynamics simulations of the effects of tensile lattice strain on ion permeation across graphene-embedded crown ether pores. Our findings suggest the first instance of solid-state ion channels with an exponential permeation sensitivity to strain, yielding an order of magnitude ion current increase for 2% of isotropic lattice strain. Significant permeation tuning is also shown to be achievable with anisotropic strains. Finally, we demonstrate strain-controllable ion sieving in salt mixtures. The observed high mechanosensitivity is shown to arise from strain-induced control over the competition between ion-crown and ion-solvent interactions, mediated by the atomic thinness of graphene.