Transport phenomena in nanofluidics: form ionic studies to proteomic applications

This thesis explores transport phenomena in nanochannels on a chip. Fundamental nanofluidic ionic studies form the basis for novel separation and preconcentration applications for proteomic purposes. The measurements were performed with 50-nm-high 1D nanochannels, which are easily accessible from both sides by two microchannels. Nanometer characteristic apertures were manufactured in the bonded structure of Pyrex-amorphous silicon – Pyrex, in which the thickness of the amorphous silicon layer serves as a spacer to define the height of the nanochannels. The geometry of the nanometer-sized apertures is well defined, which simplifies the modeling of the transport across them. Compared to biological pores, the present nanochannels in Pyrex offer increased stability. Fundamental characteristics of nanometer-sized apertures were obtained by impedance spectroscopy measurements of the nanochannel at different ionic strengths and pH values. A conductance plateau (on a log-log scale) was modeled and measured, establishing due to the dominance of the surface charge density in the nanochannels, which induces an excess of mobile counterions to maintain electroneutrality. The nanochannel conductance can be regulated at low ionic strengths by pH adjustment, and by an external voltage applied on the chip to change the zeta potential. This field-effect allows the regulation of ionic flow which can be exploited for the fabrication of nanofluidic devices. Fluorescence measurements confirm that 50-nm-high nanochannels show an exclusion of co-ions and an enrichment of counterions at low ionic strengths. This permselectivity is related to the increasing thickness of the electrical double layer (EDL) with decreasing salt concentrations, which results in an EDL overlap in an aperture if the height of the nanochannel and the thickness of the EDL are comparable in size. The diffusive transport of charged species and therefore the exclusion-enrichment effect was described with a simple model based on the Poisson-Boltzmann equation. The negatively charged Pyrex surface of the nanometer characteristic apertures can be inversed with chemical surface pretreatments, resulting in an exclusion of cations and an enrichment of anions. When a pressure gradient is applied across the nanochannels, charged molecules are electrostatically rejected at the entrance of the nanometer-sized apertures, which can be used for separation processes. Proteomic applications are presented such as the separation and preconcentration of proteins. The diffusion of Lectin proteins with different isoelectric points and very similar compositions were controlled by regulating the pH value of the buffer. When the proteins are neutral at their pI value, the diffusion coefficient is maximal because the biomolecules does not interact electrostatically with the charged surfaces of the nanochannel. This led to a fast separation of three Lectin proteins across the nanochannel. The pI values measured in this experiment are slightly shifted compared to the values obtained with isoelectric focusing because of reversible adsorption of proteins on the walls which affects the pH value in the nanochannel. An important application in the proteomic field is the preconcentration of biomolecules. By applying an electric field across the nanochannel, anionic and cationic analytes were preconcentrated on the cathodic side of the nanometer-sized aperture whereas on the anodic side depletion of ions was observed. This is due to concentration polarization, a complex of effects related to the formation of ionic concentration gradients in the electrolyte solution adjacent to an ion-selective interface. It was measured that the preconcentration factor increased with the net charge of the molecule, leading to a preconcentration factor of > 600 for rGFP proteins in 9 minutes. Such preconcentrations are important in micro total analysis systems to achieve increased detection signals of analytes contained in dilute solutions. Compared to cylindrical pores, our fabrication process allows the realization of nanochannels on a chip in which the exclusion-enrichment effect and a big flux across the nanometer-sized aperture can be achieved, showing the interest for possible micro total analysis system applications. The described exclusion-enrichment effect as well as concentration polarization play an important role in transport phenomena in nanofluidics. The appendix includes preliminary investigations in DNA molecule separation and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy measurements, which allows investigating the behavior of molecules in the nanochannel itself.


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