A team of UConn chemists has discovered a new way of making a class of porous materials that allows for greater manufacturing controls and has significantly broader applications than the longtime industry standard.
The process, more than three years in the making, has resulted in the creation of more than 60 new families of materials so far, with the potential for many more. The key catalyst in the process is recyclable, making it a 'green' technology.
"This is definitely the most exciting project I've been involved in over the past 30 years," says Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Steven L. Suib, the project's principal investigator.
The research team's novel process creates monomodal mesoporous metal oxides using transition metals such as manganese, cobalt, and iron. The mesopores are between 2 and 50 nanometers in diameter and are evenly distributed across the material's surface.
UConn's scientists used nitric oxide chemistry to change the diameter of the pores. This unique approach helped contain chemical reactions and provided unprecedented control and flexibility.
Having materials with uniform microscopic pores allows targeted molecules of a particular size to flow into and out of the material, which is important in such applications as adsorption, sensors, optics, magnetic, and energy products such as the catalysts found in fuel cells.
"When people think about these materials, they think about lock-and-key systems," says Suib. "With certain enzymes, you have to have pores of a certain size and shape. With this process, you can now make a receptacle for specific proteins or enzymes so that they can enter the pores and specifically bind and react. That's the hope, to be able to make a pore that will allow such materials to fit, to be able to make a pore that a scientist needs."
UConn's chemists replaced a long-standing water-based process with one employing a synthetic chemical surfact
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University of Connecticut