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Bionic Thermoelectric Response with Nanochannels

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journal contribution
posted on 08.05.2019 by Kexin Chen, Lina Yao, Bin Su
Thermosensation, the ability to detect environmental temperature change, is one of most ancient and crucial processes for the survival of all living organisms. Mammals use temperature-sensitive transient receptor potential (thermoTRP) cation channels as thermometers to convert the temperature change into electrical signals that are finally received as action potentials by nerve endings. In this work, we report the bionic thermosensation by solid-state hybrid nanochannels based on the principle of thermally sensitive permselective ion transport. The hybrid nanochannels possess an asymmetric structure, consisting of ultrasmall silica nanochannels (∼2.3 nm in diameter, ∼100 nm in length) supported by large-sized track-etched poly­(ethylene terephthalate) conical nanochannels. When the hybrid nanochannels are engineered to separate two electrolyte solutions, the temperature change in one solution can be directly converted into trans-nanochannel diffusion potential, akin to the natural thermosensation process. Two bionic modes, namely, in the absence and presence of a concentration gradient, were studied to imitate the natural thermosensation of thermoTRP ion channels and shark, respectively. In both cases, real-time thermoelectric response was captured with a fast relative response speed (electrical response time versus temperature change time) of higher than 98%, as well as excellent stability and reversibility. Moreover, the nanochannels are highly sensitive to thermal stimulus, showing a sensitivity of 0.71 mV/K comparable to the natural thermosensation. The experimental results coincide well with the theoretical relationship between electrical response and temperature change derived in terms of a quasi-steady-state ion transport model. Finite element simulations based on coupled Poisson–Nernst–Planck (PNP) and Einstein–Stokes equations were also performed, confirming that the sensitive thermoelectric response originates from the highly cationic selectivity of nanochannels.