Colin Weeks has summer research projects on synthesizing and investigating the properties of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). These materials are two- and three-dimensional frameworks where organic molecules connect metal atoms together into crystalline polymeric structures.
The modular nature of MOFs makes it possible to produce a vast array of framework topologies and there is much scope for tailoring the properties of the framework through the choice of metal and organic linker components and variation in the synthetic methods. The presence of metal atoms makes it possible to incorporate useful properties into these new polymers: iron atoms can be used to construct frameworks that are magnetic, some metals (e.g. copper, manganese) can make the frameworks act as catalysts. However, many fundamental properties of these new materials are not well understood, which hampers the development of their potential applications. For instance, catalytic MOFs are normally porous, with the chemical reactions proceeding inside the pores, yet little is known about how molecules adsorb and desorb from the pores of these materials. Additionally, if the many potential applications of these materials are to be realized we need to improve our ability to design new framework structures (the preparation of which currently is largely a matter of trial and error) and know how to reliably produce them in pure form in large amounts.
Students can work on projects where they synthesize porous coordination polymers that are able to reversibly adsorb guest molecules in their pores and characterize their sorption properties. Another area of research that students can be involved in is determining the mechanisms by which metal-organic frameworks form and the factors that control the structure of the frameworks.