Water in Nonpolar Confinement: From Nanotubes to Proteins and Beyond *
Water molecules confined to nonpolar pores and cavities of nanoscopic dimensions exhibit highly unusual properties. Water filling is strongly cooperative, with the possible coexistence of filled and empty states and sensitivity to small perturbations of the pore polarity and solvent conditions. Confined water molecules form tightly hydrogen-bonded wires or clusters. The weak attractions to the confining wall, combined with strong interactions between water molecules, permit exceptionally rapid water flow, exceeding expectations from macroscopic hydrodynamics by several orders of magnitude. The proton mobility along 1D water wires also substantially exceeds that in the bulk. Proteins appear to exploit these unusual properties of confined water in their biological function (e.g., to ensure rapid water flow in aquaporins or to gate proton flow in proton pumps and enzymes). The unusual properties of water in nonpolar confinement are also relevant to the design of novel nanofluidic and molecular separation devices or fuel cells.