Electrokinetic fluid flow in nanocapillary array (NCA) membranes between vertically separated microfluidic channels offers an attractive alternative to using mechanical action to achieve fluidic communication between different regions of lab-on-a-chip devices. By adjusting the channel diameter, a, and the inverse Debye length, k, and applying the appropriate external potential, the nanochannel arrays, can be made to behave like digital fluidic switches, and the movement of molecules from one side of the array to the other side can be controlled. However, inherent differences in ionic mobility lead to non-equilibrium ion populations on the downstream side, which, in turn, shows up through transient changes in the microchannel conductance. Here we describe coupled calculations and experiments in which the electrical properties of a microfluidic-nanofluidic hybrid architecture are simulated by a combination of a compact model for the bulk electrical properties and iterative self-consistent solutions of the coupled Poisson, Nernst-Planck, and Navier-Stokes equations to recover the detailed ion motion in the nanopores. The transient electrical conductivity in the microchannel, after application of a forward bias pulse to the NCA membrane, is recovered in quantitative detail. The surface charge density of the nanopores and the capacitance of the membrane, which are critical determinants of electrokinetic flow through NCA, fall out of the analysis in a natural way, providing a clear mechanism to determine these critically important parameters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)507-516
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nanoparticle Research
Issue number4-5
StatePublished - Oct 2005


  • Modeling
  • Molecular gate
  • Nanofluidics
  • Nanotechnology
  • Simulation
  • Three-dimensional architecture
  • Water quality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)


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