‘Tinkertoy’ framework most porous yet

U. PITTSBURGH (US) — An alternate approach to building porous materials could ease the delivery of drugs into the human body and better control the storage of voluminous quantities of gas molecules, new research shows.

Working with metal-organic frameworks—crystalline compounds made from metal-cluster vertices linked together by organic molecules to form one-, two-, or three-dimensional porous structures—researchers addressed changing the size of the vertex (the metal cluster) rather than the length of the organic molecule links, which resulted in the largest metal organic framework pore volume reported to date.

“Think of this the way you imagine Tinkertoys,” says Nathaniel Rosi, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and principal investigator of the study, published in Nature Communications.


“The metal clusters are your joints, and the organic molecules are your linkers. In order to build a highly open structure with lots of empty space, you can increase the linker length or you can increase the size of the joint. We developed chemistry to make large joints, or vertices, and showed that we could link these together to build a material with extraordinarily large pores for this class of materials.

“Essentially, we’re like architects. We first make a blueprint for a target material, and we then select our building blocks for construction,” he says. “We develop methods for designing structures and controlling the assembly of these structures on a molecule-by-molecule basis.”

The new approach could have an impact on storing large quantities of gas such as carbon dioxide or methane, an important development for alternative energy, or large amounts of drug molecules, which could impact the drug-delivery field, says Rosi and Jihyun An, who graduated with a PhD degree in chemistry from Pitt in 2011 and is lead author of the paper.

The team’s research has been supported in part by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.

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