Unlocking the secrets of nanofluidics using a 2D material and light

Unlocking the secrets of nanofluidics using a 2D material and light

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

‘This could lead to more dynamic applications in the future for optical imaging and sensing’

A discovery in the field of nanofluidics could shake up our understanding of molecular behavior on the tiniest scales. Research teams at EPFL and the University of Manchester have revealed a previously hidden world by using the newly found fluorescent properties of a graphene-like 2D material, boron nitride. This innovative approach enables scientists to track individual molecules within nanofluidic structures, illuminating their behavior in ways never before possible. The study’s findings are published in the journal Nature Materials.

Nanofluidics, the study of fluids confined within ultra-small spaces, offers insights into the behavior of liquids on a nanometer scale. However, exploring the movement of individual molecules in such confined environments has been challenging due to the limitations of conventional microscopy techniques. This obstacle prevented real-time sensing and imaging, leaving significant gaps in our knowledge of molecular properties in confinement.

Thanks to an unexpected property of boron nitride, EPFL’s researchers at the School of Engineering have achieved what was once thought impossible. This 2D material possesses a remarkable ability to emit light when in contact with liquids. By leveraging this property, scientists at EPFL’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology have succeeded in directly observing and tracing the paths of individual molecules within nanofluidic structures. This revelation opens the door to a deeper understanding of the behaviors of ions and molecules in conditions that mimic biological systems.

Professor Aleksandra Radenovic, Head of LBEN, explains, “Advancements in fabrication and material science have empowered us to control fluidic and ionic transport on the nanoscale. Yet, our understanding of nanofluidic systems remained limited, as conventional light microscopy couldn’t penetrate structures below the diffraction limit. Our research now shines a light on nanofluidics, offering insights into a realm that was largely uncharted until now.”

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