Several recent papers have shown both theoretically and experimentally that water flows through nanopipes (such as carbon nanotubes) more quickly than would be expected by extrapolating normal macroscopic pipe flow to the nanoscale (see, for example, J. C. Rasaiah et al., Ann. Rev. Phys. Chem. 59, 713-740; 2008). This, along with the exclusion of ions from very narrow pores, has raised hopes that nanotube membranes might be used for efficient desalination. One day New Scientist is going to publish a feature from me on this, but they have been sitting on it for months (as is their wont). Now Nick Quirke at Imperial College in London and colleagues have found enhanced transport, by a factor of up to 45, for water and other liquids (ethanol, decane) through wider carbon nanotubes than studied previously (M. Whitby et al., Nano Lett. 8, 2632-2637; 2008 - paper here). The reasons are not yet fully understood, but are likely to depend on the specifics of the fluid-wall interaction. This doesn’t obviously help much with desalination, but bodes well for ultrafiltration.
But John Thomas and Alan McGaughey at Carnegie Mellon sound a warning bell. Their MD simulations (J. A. Thomas & A. J. H. McGaughey, Nano Lett. 8, 2788-2793; 2008 – paper here) find significantly lower flow enhancement than reported previously in experiments (e.g. Holt et al., Science 312, 1034-1037; 2006; Majumder et al., Nature 438, 44; 2005). Thomas and McGaughey suggest that the experiments might have miscalculated the true flow area, or might have been affected by external driving forces such as electric fields.
Two papers this week probe the nature of nanoconfined water. Manu Sharma, Giulia Galli at UC Davis and their coworkers have calculated theab initio IR spectra of confined water, and say that some of the features seen experimentally are due to electronic charge fluctuations at the interface (M. Sharma et al., Nano Lett. 8, 2959-2962; 2008 – paper here). They also suggest that the frequency shifts of some spectral peaks relative to the bulk are due to confinement-induced changes in the hydrogen-bond network. And Jean Philippe Renault at CEA Laboratory of Radiolysis in Gif-sur-Yvette and colleagues use pump-probe IR spectroscopy to look at those effects on hydrogen bonds for water in porous glasses (I assume silica) with pores of 1, 13 and 50nm width (R. Musat et al., Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. doi:10.1002/anie.200802630; paper here). There are apparently modifications of the relaxational dynamics even for the largest pores. The bottom line reiterates a familiar notion: “the microscopic properties of water are influenced by the space it occupies.”
Roland Netz and colleagues at TU Munich have studied the friction and adhesion of polypeptides on hydrophilic and hydrophobic diamond surfaces using MD simulations (A. Serr, D. Horinek & R. R. Netz, JACS 130, 12408-12413; 2008 – paper here). They find stick-slip motion due to making and breaking hydrogen bonds (with little sign of cooperativity) on the hydrophilic surface, but smooth motion on the hydrophobic one.