Fusing organic synthesis and inorganic materials chemistry: making more than the sum of its parts

December 22, 1999

Researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered a way to fuse organic synthesis and inorganic materials chemistry at their core, creating a new class of hybrid materials that are greater than the sum of their parts.

In a paper to be published in the Dec. 23 edition of Nature, scientists chemically integrated organic molecules and inorganic materials at the molecular scale. The result is a new class of composite materials that could have far-reaching implications for a vast number of areas from biomaterials to pharmaceuticals, aerospace to energy, automotive to construction, electronics to photonics.

"We're going beyond the traditional fields of organic synthesis and inorganic materials chemistry," says lead author Geoffrey Ozin and professor in U of T's chemistry department. "We're unifying two of the most powerful sub-disciplines of chemistry in a way that has never been done before."

Ozin conducted the study with his co-workers Tewodros Asefa, Mark MacLachlan and Neil Coombs at the materials chemistry research group at the U of T.

The notion of chemically combining organic and inorganic materials at the molecular level has generated much interest in recent years. One class of well known organic-inorganic hybrid materials - called xerogels - are solids riddled with tiny holes that display unique properties compared to those of the individual components. Their uses, however, are severely limited because of their random network of different size and shape holes. Another class of organic-inorganic hybrids has also been synthesized. These do have a regular network of single size and shape holes, but the organics are chemically attached to the surface of the holes and reside in the space outside of the structure.

In contrast, U of T researchers have figured out how to directly integrate the organic components inside the actual framework of the solid state inorganic material. This breakthrough raises the prospect of being able to fuse organic synthesis and inorganic materials chemistry to create "designer composite" materials.

Organic and inorganic chemistry are two branches of chemistry that lead to the formation of materials, for use in lasers and cell phones to pharmaceuticals and medical devices. This study cuts across a wide range of disciplines from biology and chemistry to physics and materials science. In future, scientists may be able to use this research to modify the properties of materials to improve their hardness or softness, their thermal and electrical insulation or conductivity, or their light emission and magnetism.

"This research paves the way for an exciting new avenue of materials science. It brings together organic and inorganic chemistry in novel ways to create a new generation of solid state materials. And it promises fundamentally different approaches to chemistry and physics and possibly brand new technologies," Ozin says.

This study was supported by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. For additional information, a backgrounder is also available.

Janet Wong
U of T Public Affairs
(416) 978-6974

Professor Geoffrey A. Ozin
Materials Chemistry Research Group
Department of Chemistry, U of T
(416) 978-2082

Tewodros Asefa
Department of Chemistry, U of T
(416) 978-4735

Mark MacLachlan
(617) 258-6536 (office)
(617) 591-1237 (home)

University of Toronto

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