Selective ionic transport through tunable subnanometer pores in single-layer graphene membranes

Sean C. O'Hern, Michael S H Boutilier, Juan Carlos Idrobo, Yi Song, Jing Kong, Tahar Laoui, Muataz Atieh, Rohit Karnik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

366 Citations (Scopus)


We report selective ionic transport through controlled, high-density, subnanometer diameter pores in macroscopic single-layer graphene membranes. Isolated, reactive defects were first introduced into the graphene lattice through ion bombardment and subsequently enlarged by oxidative etching into permeable pores with diameters of 0.40 ± 0.24 nm and densities exceeding 1012 cm-2, while retaining structural integrity of the graphene. Transport measurements across ion-irradiated graphene membranes subjected to in situ etching revealed that the created pores were cation-selective at short oxidation times, consistent with electrostatic repulsion from negatively charged functional groups terminating the pore edges. At longer oxidation times, the pores allowed transport of salt but prevented the transport of a larger organic molecule, indicative of steric size exclusion. The ability to tune the selectivity of graphene through controlled generation of subnanometer pores addresses a significant challenge in the development of advanced nanoporous graphene membranes for nanofiltration, desalination, gas separation, and other applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1234-1241
Number of pages8
JournalNano Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes



  • desalination
  • filter
  • ion selective membrane
  • Molecular sieve
  • nanofiltration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Bioengineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Mechanical Engineering

Cite this

O'Hern, S. C., Boutilier, M. S. H., Idrobo, J. C., Song, Y., Kong, J., Laoui, T., Atieh, M., & Karnik, R. (2014). Selective ionic transport through tunable subnanometer pores in single-layer graphene membranes. Nano Letters, 14(3), 1234-1241.