22 December 2015

Developing new materials for industry application is the goal of many researchers across the globe.

Looking at the intricate make-up of materials and what external changes may alter their structure is vital in the development of new versatile materials that can be applied within industry.

A new research project to be undertaken by early-career researcher, Dr Kenji Sumida, aims to develop metal-organic framework (MOF) superstructures as a new materials platform.

Dr Sumida recently received a $373 536 ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award grant to delve deeper into the structures of MOFs.

MOFs are an emerging class of crystalline, sponge-like materials composed of two components: metal ions and organic molecules known as linkers. The choice of metal and linker has significant effects on the structure and properties of a particular MOF.

Two key attributes of MOFs make them so attractive. Firstly, their extremely large surface-areas—one gram of MOF material (about the size of a pea) can have a surface area of up to forty tennis courts. The second attractive feature is the flexibility with which their structures can be varied.

The porosity of MOFs mean they can be used to filter and separate gases, an extremely common and important industrial process. Such unique properties is leading to the rapid development of new applications in areas such as pharmaceuticals, medical imaging and sensing.

Through his ARC-funded research project, Dr Sumida intends to synthesise structuralised MOFs as a platform for studies related to their adsorptive and dynamic properties, and to study these systems as next-generation materials for hydrocarbon separations.

“By developing new and improved synthetic methods that allow greater control of how these materials are constructed from the bottom up, and by achieving a greater understanding of how these structural features influence the separation performance, next generation materials allowing more efficient and effective separations are expected to emerge,” Dr Sumida said.

The generation of this knowledge will have implications for how separations are performed at a larger scale and on a global level.

Dr Sumida believes that increases in future demand for MOF based technologies also have the potential to create opportunities in the manufacturing sector in Australia.

While Dr Sumida is excited about commencing this new research project he is also grateful for the opportunity that an ARC DECRA brings.

“The DECRA will allow me to conduct an independent research programme for the very first time which is really an exciting and new step in my research. I’m very thankful for this opportunity to conduct my science here in Australia.”

Much of Dr Sumida’s project will be conducted within the Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials within the School of Physical Sciences at The University of Adelaide.

“This centre is the perfect environment for me to conduct my DECRA project due to the breadth of expertise available as a collaborative research network as well as the strength of pre-existing infrastructure that is ideally suited to support my research goals.”

A significant portion of the infrastructure that Dr Sumida will use during his DECRA research has been established as a direct result of a former ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities grant. The availability of this cutting-edge instrumentation will enable Dr Sumida to make immediate progress on his research programme.

For more information about this research project, please contact Dr Kenji Sumida.


Image: Dr Kenji Sumida.
Image courtesy: Russell Millard Photography.