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Enhanced Diffusive Transport in Fluctuating Porous Media

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posted on 01.04.2021, 23:53 by Raphaël Sarfati, Christopher P. Calderon, Daniel K. Schwartz
Mass transport within porous structures is a ubiquitous process in biological, geological, and technological systems. Despite the importance of these phenomena, there is no comprehensive theory that describes the complex and diverse transport behavior within porous environments. While the porous matrix itself is generally considered a static and passive participant, many porous environments are in fact dynamic, with fluctuating walls, pores that open and close, and dynamically changing cross-links. While diffusion has been measured in fluctuating structures, notably in model biological systems, it is rarely possible to isolate the effect of fluctuations because of the absence of control experiments involving an identical static counterpart, and it is generally impossible to observe the dynamics of the structure. Here we present a direct comparison of the diffusion of nanoparticles of various sizes within a trackable, fluctuating porous matrix and a geometrically equivalent static matrix, in conditions spanning a range of regimes from obstructed to highly confined. The experimental system comprised a close-packed layer of colloidal spheres that were either immobilized to a planar surface or allowed to fluctuate locally, within the space defined by their nearest neighbors. Interestingly, the effective long-time diffusion coefficient was approximately 35–65% greater in the fluctuating porous matrix than in the static one (depending on the size of the nanoparticle probes), regardless of the geometric regime. This was explained by considering the enhancing effects of matrix fluctuations on the short-time diffusion coefficient and cooperative “gate-opening” motions of matrix particles and nanoparticle probes.