Letter | Published:

Water transport inside carbon nanotubes mediated by phonon-induced oscillating friction

Nature Nanotechnology volume 10, pages 692695 (2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

The emergence of the field of nanofluidics in the last decade1 has led to the development of important applications including water desalination2, ultrafiltration2 and osmotic energy conversion3. Most applications make use of carbon nanotubes4, boron nitride nanotubes2, graphene5,6 and graphene oxide5. In particular, understanding water transport in carbon nanotubes is key for designing ultrafiltration devices2 and energy-efficient water filters1,4. However, although theoretical studies based on molecular dynamics simulations7,8,9 have revealed many mechanistic features of water transport at the molecular level, further advances in this direction are limited by the fact that the lowest flow velocities accessible by simulations7,8,9 are orders of magnitude higher than those measured experimentally4,10,11,12,13. Here, we extend molecular dynamics studies of water transport through carbon nanotubes to flow velocities comparable with experimental ones using massive crowd-sourced computing power. We observe previously undetected oscillations in the friction force between water and carbon nanotubes and show that these oscillations result from the coupling between confined water molecules and the longitudinal phonon modes of the nanotube. This coupling can enhance the diffusion of confined water by more than 300%. Our results may serve as a theoretical framework for the design of new devices for more efficient water filtration and osmotic energy conversion devices.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the thousands of volunteers who have contributed to the Computing for Clean Water project for their enthusiastic support. The authors thank A. Michaelides and G. Aeppli for discussions. This research was undertaken with the assistance of resources from the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), which is supported by the Australian Government.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Engineering Mechanics, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Ming Ma
    • , Shuai Wu
    •  & Quanshui Zheng
  2. London Centre for Nanotechnology, University College London, London WC1H 0AJ, UK

    • Ming Ma
    •  & François Grey
  3. School of Chemistry, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel

    • Ming Ma
    •  & Michael Urbakh
  4. Center for Nano and Micro Mechanics, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • François Grey
    • , Shuai Wu
    •  & Quanshui Zheng
  5. Department of Physics, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • François Grey
  6. Citizen Cyberscience Centre, CUI, University of Geneva, Carouge CH-1227, Switzerland

    • François Grey
  7. School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

    • Luming Shen
  8. XIN Center, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Michael Urbakh
    •  & Quanshui Zheng
  9. XIN Center, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel

    • Michael Urbakh
    •  & Quanshui Zheng
  10. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria 3800, Australia

    • Jefferson Zhe Liu
  11. State Key Laboratory for Strength and Vibration of Mechanical Structures, School of Aerospace Engineering, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an 710049, China

    • Yilun Liu
  12. Applied Mechanics Lab, and State Key Laboratory of Tribology, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Quanshui Zheng

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Contributions

F.G., M.M. and Q.S.Z. proposed and designed the project. M.M. performed MD simulations, data analysis and theoretical analysis. F.G. coordinated the project and participated in data analysis. L.M.S. participated in the design of the MD simulations set-up and provided key resources for test simulations and data analysis. M.U. performed theoretical analysis and participated in data analysis. M.M., F.G., M.U. and Q.S.Z. wrote the manuscript. L.M.S., S.W., J.Z.L. and Y.L.L. participated in data analysis and manuscript preparation.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to François Grey or Quanshui Zheng.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2015.134

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