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Mechanically activated ionic transport across single-digit carbon nanotubes


Fluid and ionic transport at the nanoscale has recently demonstrated a wealth of exotic behaviours1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14. However, artificial nanofluidic devices15,16,17,18 are still far from demonstrating the advanced functionalities existing in biological systems, such as electrically and mechanically activated transport19,20. Here, we focus on ionic transport through 2-nm-radius individual multiwalled carbon nanotubes under the combination of mechanical and electrical forcings. Our findings evidence mechanically activated ionic transport in the form of an ionic conductance that depends quadratically on the applied pressure. Our theoretical study relates this behaviour to the complex interplay between electrical and mechanical drivings, and shows that the superlubricity of the carbon nanotubes4,5,6,7,8,21 is a prerequisite to attaining mechanically activated transport. The pressure sensitivity shares similarities with the response of biological mechanosensitive ion channels19,20, but observed here in an artificial system. This paves the way to build new active nanofluidic functionalities inspired by complex biological machinery.

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Fig. 1: Experimental set-up and pressure-driven current without bias voltage (ΔV = 0).
Fig. 2: Pressure-driven current while applying a bias (experiments).
Fig. 3: Theoretical analysis of the electro-hydrodynamic coupling.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are provided with this paper. Source data are provided with this paper.


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A.S. acknowledges funding from the EU H2020 Framework Programme/ERC Starting Grant agreement no. 637748-NanoSOFT. L.B. acknowledges funding from the EU H2020 Framework Programme/ERC Advanced Grant agreement no. 785911-Shadoks and ANR project Neptune. L.B. and A.S. acknowledge support from the Horizon 2020 programme through grant no. 766972-FET-OPEN-NANOPHLOW.

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Authors and Affiliations



L.B. and A.S. designed and directed the project. A.M., A.S. and A.N. fabricated the devices. A.M. performed the measurements with input from the other authors. All authors analysed the data and contributed to discussions. L.B. performed the theoretical analysis and A.M. the numerical modelling. A.M., A.S. and L.B. wrote the manuscript, with input from T.M.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alessandro Siria or Lydéric Bocquet.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1 and 2 and Figs. 1–9.

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Source Data Fig. 1

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Source Data Fig. 2

Data to generate Figure 2

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Marcotte, A., Mouterde, T., Niguès, A. et al. Mechanically activated ionic transport across single-digit carbon nanotubes. Nat. Mater. 19, 1057–1061 (2020).

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