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Nanoscale Transport of Electrons and Ions in Water

  • Author(s): Boynton, Paul Christopher
  • Advisor(s): Di Ventra, Massimiliano
  • et al.

The following dissertation discusses the theoretical study of water on the nanoscale, often involved with essential biological molecules such as DNA and proteins. First I introduce the study of water on the nanoscale and how experimentalists approach confinement with nanopores and nanogaps. Then I discuss the theoretical method we choose for understanding this important biological medium on the molecular level, namely classical molecular dynamics. This leads into transport mechanisms that utilize water on the nanoscale, in our case electronic and ionic transport. On the scale of mere nanometers or less electronic transport in water enters the tunneling regime, requiring the use of a quantum treatment. In addition, I discuss the importance of water in ionic transport and its known effects on biological phenomena such as ion selectivity. Water also has great influence over DNA and proteins, which are both introduced in the context of nanopore sequencing. Several techniques for nanopore sequencing are examined and the importance of protein sequencing is explained. In Chapter 2, we study the effect of volumetric constraints on the structure and electronic transport properties of distilled water in a nanopore with embedded electrodes. Combining classical molecular dynamics simulations with quantum scattering theory, we show that the structural motifs water assumes inside the pore can be probed directly by tunneling. In Chapter 3, we propose an improvement to the original sequencing by tunneling method, in which N pairs of electrodes are built in series along a synthetic nanochannel. Each current time series for each nucleobase is cross-correlated together, reducing noise in the signals. We show using random sampling of data from classical molecular dynamics, that indeed the sequencing error is significantly reduced as the number of pairs of electrodes, N, increases. In Chapter 4, we propose a new technique for de novo protein sequencing that involves translocating a polypeptide through a synthetic nanochannel and measuring the ionic current of each amino acid through an intersecting perpendicular nanochannel. We find that the distribution of ionic currents for each of the 20 proteinogenic amino acids encoded by eukaryotic genes is statistically distinct using our theoretical method.

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