Physics and technological aspects of nanofluidics
From a physical perspective, nanofluidics represents an extremely rich domain. It hosts many mechanisms acting on the nanoscale, which combine together or interact with the confinement to generate new phenomena. Superfast flows in carbon nanotubes, nonlinear electrokinetic transport, slippage over smooth surfaces, nanobubble stability, etc. are the most striking phenomena that have been unveiled over the past few years, and some of them are still awaiting an explanation. One may anticipate that new nanofluidic effects will be discovered in the future, but at the moment, the technological barrier is high. Fabrication of nanochannels is most often a tour de force, slow and costly. However, with the accumulation of technological skills along with the use of new nanofluidic materials (like nanotubes), nanofluidics is becoming increasingly accessible to experimentalists. Among the technological challenges faced by the field, fabricating devices mimicking natural nanometric systems, such as aquaporins, ionic pumps or kidney osmotic filtering, seems the most demanding in terms of groundbreaking ideas. Nanoflow characterization remains delicate, although considerable progress has been achieved over the past years. The targeted application of nanofluidics is not only in the field of genomics and membrane science – with disruptive developments to be expected for water purification, desalination, and energy harvesting – but also for oil and gas production from unconventional reservoirs. Today, in view of the markets that are targeted, nanofluidics may well impact the industry more than microfluidics; this would represent an unexpected paradox. These successes rely on using a variety of materials and technologies, using state-of-the-art nanofabrication, or low-tech inexpensive approaches. As a whole, nanofluidics is a fascinating field that is facing considerable challenges today. It possesses a formidable potential and offers much space for creative groundbreaking ideas.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Lab on a Chip: Insights Issue