Today, the equilibrium behavior of ions in solution may be predicted with some confidence, essentially because rapid ionic diffusion over small distances ensures homogeneity throughout the solution. Equilibrium concepts such as ionic strength and pH apply. However, when attempting to understand the behavior of ions passing rapidly through narrow pores such as ion channels, no such equilibrium state may be assumed. The passing solution may have been in equilibrium with conditions at the mouth of the pore but will not be in equilibrium with charged molecules on the pore wall. In addition, the water in narrow pores will be partially ordered by contact with the pore walls and will not behave like bulk water.

To illustrate this difference, a simple equilibrium calculation of the ion concentrations near a plastic sheet penetrated by narrow pores and containing in its surface partially ionized carboxyl groups is shown to be in good agreement with experiment. However, to predict the non-equilibrium behavior within the narrow pores is much more difficult. To illustrate the difficulty, a Monte Carlo computer model is described which attempts to predict the rapid switching of ion current observed experimentally with these narrow pores.

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