The last few years have witnessed major advancements in the synthesis, modification, characterization and modeling of nanometer-size solid-state channels and pores. Future applications in sensing, energy conversion and purification technologies will critically rely on qualitative improvements in the control over the selectivity, directionality and responsiveness of these nanochannels and nanopores. It is not surprising, therefore, that researchers in the field seek inspiration in biological ion channels and ion pumps, paradigmatic examples of transport selectivity. This work reviews our current fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of transport of ions and larger cargoes through nanopores and nanochannels by examining recent experimental and theoretical work. It is argued that that structure and transport in biological channels and polyelectrolyte-modified synthetic nanopores are strongly coupled: the structure dictates transport and transport affects the structure. We compare synthetic and biological systems throughout this review to conclude that while they present interesting similarities, they also have striking differences.

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DOI: 10.1016/j.mattod.2014.10.020