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Molecular cages - the hole story

Hands-on at the exhibit

  • Learn more about the porous materials we have developed and how, and what they could be used for
  • Come along and design your own porous cages - select what starting materials and shape you wish to make, and also make your own origami cage!
  • Investigate how molecular cages can be porous using 3D printed cages, before testing your separation skills using our interactive filtration model
  • Play our touchscreen cage game where you’ll race against the clock to assemble a cage and capture gases. This is your chance to win your very own 3D printed cage!

Find out more

Porous materials can be used for a variety of separations and gas storage, such as capturing greenhouse gases or removing harmful contaminants from the air. We study a class of these porous materials called porous organic cages. These are individual molecules which have an internal, permanent hole, which is accessible through ‘windows’. These cages are made using very simple chemistry, but small changes in the manufacturing process can drastically change their properties, and therefore what they can be used for.

Unlike other porous materials which are often large frameworks, the individual nature of these cages makes them soluble. This means we can assemble them into larger 3D structures by changing their shape - like building Lego. This assembly forms connected channels and makes the materials porous, making them really useful. As little as one gram of cage can have the same surface area as seven tennis courts! Because they are soluble, the cages can also be processed into porous liquids. This means we now have a new, versatile material - a liquid with holes. The cages can also be mixed with other materials to change their properties, and form molecular-sieving membranes for gas separations.

We are investigating what we can use these cage structures for, including porous liquids, chiral separations (important in the pharmaceutical industry), size selectivity of gases (useful for separating rare gases such as xenon used in medical imaging and anaesthesia, and to remove hazardous radioisotopes from the environment after nuclear accidents). We can also modify these cages to remove formaldehyde, which can cause cancer, leukaemia, asthma and reproductive problems.

We are combining computer simulations with state-of-the-art robotics to screen and identify promising new materials at our new Materials Innovation Factory, and this is already accelerating the discovery process!

Find out more at The Hole Story.

Presented by: University of LiverpoolImperial College London, Materials Innovation Factory, Manchester Metropolitan University, Leverhulme Research Centre for Functional Materials Design.