First thing about chemistry is that there are only 118 elements. All of chemistry is about permutations and combinations of these 118 elements. However, the interesting thing is that you can create infinite combinations of these 118 elements which makes it a never ending pursuit of innovation and revolution. Today we talk about an upcoming revolution that you could become a part of, if you choose. If I was your age, I would be thrilled. This is like learning about computers 10 years before they become popular.
Every field of science and technology is powered by a simple but powerful chemistry. One such upcoming revolution is MOF - Metal Organic Frameworks. These are a subclass of coordination complexes that you have studied in school Chemistry. MOFs have metal ions or clusters coordinated to organic ligands and extended to form polymers in 1 or 2 or 3 dimensions. Have a look at the image below showing metal ions (cubical shapes) clustering around organic ligands (the knots stuck inside) at the centre to form a MOF crystal. It looks like a metal seed or capsule with organic material inside. Right? Yes that's where the magic begins because these can be used as artificial seeds or capsules which are 0.000005 times smaller than the capsules we eat as medicines.
Ok. Impressive. But what will it do?
1. Drug Delivery for fatal illnesses like Cancer
What is the size of a human cell? 100 micron. What is the size of this capsule? 10-20 micron. So the way you gulp a medicine capsule 💊 in your mouth, these capsules can be gulped by human cells. So we can create a completely new revolutionary paradigm of drug delivery to specific cells which are sick instead of all cells in the body. The drug will be packed in micron sized capsules and delivered to only those parts of the body which need treatment and only those cells will get the medicine. So no side effects in other parts of the body. Example - you pack ibuprofen or aspirin etc inside such a micro capsule and deliver it to part of the body which aches without causing stomach problems, vomiting and tiredness.
This has created new possibilities of creating medicines for cancer which have already started.
2. Pollution Reduction
MOFs also have an interesting property that inside these capsules there is lots of empty space. They have very low bulk density. This gives them brilliant adsorption properties. This means once they are ready, you can put MOF bags on top of these polluting chimneys and all the CO2 will be adsorbed inside the MOF. Once full with CO2, the bags will be heated in a factory to release CO2 and convert it into harmless chemicals which do not pollute the environment.
Same principle is being tested for oil spills which are polluting the oceans. You will be able to put MOF sheets into the ocean which will adsorb all the oil inside the capsule's voids. You can then collect the MOF sheets and heat/squeeze them up to release all the oil. Same thing will be possible for toxic nuclear waste that humans have produced. Brilliant isn't it?
3. Hydrogen Storage
Hydrogen is the fuel with the highest specific energy. At the same time burning hydrogen only produced water and not polluting gases. But hydrogen storage is the most difficult challenge because it has very low density and can easily cause catastrophic accidents. MOFs have shown potential to store much more hydrogen inside their voids safely and upto large quantities at high pressure than normal cylinders. This will make hydrogen cars possible in future which instead of polluting gases, will be able to produce drinkable water. Sounds like magic right?
Apart from these, MOFs have shown interesting results for water vapour capture, semiconductor technology, bio-imaging and sensing and even superconducting materials which will make electrical losses almost zero and revolutionise computing and power transmission. The inventions happening around MOFs look nothing less than unbelievable. Engineers and scientists across the globe are working to make these promises real.
As young students who look forward to becoming engineers, researchers and scientists, this is a great opportunity to be a part of the future revolution if you can leave the rat race. You can participate in creating such molecules or their applications by studying at institutes like IISER-Pune, IIT Indore, IISc Bangalore, and by choosing fields like - .
BSc. in Biochemistry
B.Tech in Biotechnology
B.Tech Metallurgical Engineering
Graduate & Post Graduate courses in Material Sciences
B. Tech in Chemical Engineering
Bonus video for today is about molecular machines of our body. Must watch for everyone. It shows you animations of bio-chemical processes which you've read in school books but can never seen them happening with naked eye.
PS: This is a series of blog posts every weekend - Saturday and Sunday - for my students to learn and benefit from. A way for us to remain connected beyond school and tuition classes. I welcome suggestions from my students about the topics they would like me to research and write about. If your suggestion is selected, I will mention your name in credits of the blog. Please like, share and subscribe to the blog for more grown-up advice. Stay safe and stay connected always :).