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26. August 2020

Workshop "Frontiers in ion channels and nanopores"

The nanoCAFE' group (Computational Atomistic Fluid Dynamics and Engineering) is glad to announce the upcoming workshop "Frontiers in ion channels and nanopores: theory, experiments, and simulation" to be held in Rome, February 2-5, 2021.

Nanopores are devices paving the way to a host of technological applications ranging from water purification and desalination to DNA sequencing. Unfortunately, despite massive research efforts, artificial nanopores are still incapable of replicating the exquisite selectivity, controllability and transport properties of biological ion channels. Our meeting, bringing together scientists from the biological and physical sciences, advocates a biomimetic approach, whereby the study of biological channels is aimed at unveiling general design principles transferable to the engineering of artificial nanopores.

As you can see from the attached provisional program, our workshop, will be organized in six sessions running on four days. We believe the sessions we envisaged cover the most important areas of our field. Experiments, theory and computer simulations are the pillars of modern science and these areas will be covered by the "Experimental Gating" and "Computational Methods/Theory” sessions. Nanopores and ion channels are large systems with relevant phenomena occurring on comparatively long timescales, currently not reachable by ordinary computational resources. The study of such systems highly benefits from the use of enhanced sampling algorithms like metadynamics or the string method that allow the reconstruction of the free energy landscape and the minimum free energy path. We are delighted to have among our participants some of the pioneers of these methodologies who will update us on the latest developments. The recent achievements of the experimental study of channels and nanopores are no less exciting and will be reviewed in our session on "Experimental gating". Techniques like electron beam irradiation or block copolymer lithography allow to fabricate nanopores in a wide range of materials sometimes as thin as a monoatomic layer. Moreover, the possibility to chemically functionalize the nanopore discloses the opportunity to modulate the selectivity and permeation properties of artificial pores.

This leads to our session on "Ion channel simulations” because biological ion channels represent a source of inspiration for the design of artificial nanopores. We are fortunate enough to have speakers with experience of both fields who will guide us through this complex but fascinating path. A highly desirable property of artificial nanopores is addressability, the possibility to open and close the channel in response to specific stimuli. This leads to the "Hydrophobic gating" session where we will learn how a channel can become functionally closed even in the absence of steric occlusion. This mechanism, originally studied in artificial pores, is being identified in an increasing number of biological channels and suggests the possibility of controlling engineered pores through electrogating.


Hydrophobic gating can be considered as a particular instance of "Drying in nanoconfinement" that, not coincidentally, is the title of another session of our workshop. It is now clear that water at the nanoscale exhibits peculiar properties different from the macroscopic ones. This gives rise to fascinating phenomena like contact angle hysteresis or superhydrophobic surfaces that can be exploited in a wide range of technological and biomedical applications ranging from energy storage materials to the design of new anaesthetics. Technological applications will be also explored in the dedicated "Nanopore technology" section where we will be lectured on how nanomanipulation techniques allow to investigate the properties of individual nanopores with the final aim to design ionic machines.

The workshop will be held at the School of Engineering of Sapienza University of Rome overlooking the Colosseum, in Via Eudossiana 18 close to the Termini railway station, conveniently connected to the International Airport "Leonardo da Vinci". Participation is free of charge, but registration will be necessary beforehand. Each session, in addition to the invited speakers, will host one or two contributed talks. Also, an extended poster session will be held in the afternoon of February 4. Therefore, if your work is relevant for the meeting, please consider to submit an abstract by emailing the organizers. Also please feel free to forward this announcement to potentially interested members of your group or to colleagues. The provisional deadline for submission of contributions is the end of October 2020.

Last but not least, we would like to spend a few words about the COVID-19 safety measures. As organizers, our first priority is the safety of all participants. The current level of criticality in Italy is low, in particular in central Italy where Rome is located. Moreover, the statistics of the epidemics show that in our country there is a steadily declining number of infected people, including those requiring intensive care. Chances are, that by the time the conference takes place, University life will have restored its normal habits. Nevertheless, together with our University, we are proactively taking measures to guarantee the highest standards of safety according to the international and national guidelines. In particular, we have reserved a large conference hall for sessions and an open space for meals, which will allow to maintain the appropriate social distancing. If needed, personal protection equipment will be distributed to all attendees.

More information can be retrieved from the workshop website that we constantly update

The workshop has been endorsed by the CECAM-IT-SIMUL node, part of the CECAM (Centre Européen de Calcul Atomique et Moléculaire) network.

We are looking forward to meeting all of you. Arrivederci a Roma!

The Organizers

Alberto Giacomello
Carlo Guardiani
Antonio Tinti

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