Omar M. Yaghi
Wolf Prize Laureate in Chemistry 2018
Omar M. Yaghi
Affiliation at the time of the award:
University of California, Berkeley, USA
“for his contribution in the field of reticular chemistry”.
Traditional chemistry has focused on intermolecular connections, particularly on strong covalent bonds formed when two atoms share one or more electrons. In contrast, supramolecular chemistry deals with the study of the connections and the interactions between molecules – a study that promotes the development of novel materials with unique properties that are sometimes very useful
Omar M. Yaghi of the University of California at Berkeley, born in Amman in Jordan (1965), is a member of a refugee family with many children. At the age of 15 he was sent to the United States and soon became prominent for his outstanding talent for science. In 1985, Yaghi began his doctoral studies in chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After completing his studies, he completed a post-doctorate at Harvard. In 1992, he gained his first independent academic post at the Arizona State University. This is where he actually conceived, developed, and finally began to apply his grand, chemical program to bond molecules together – through strong bonds – to large “frameworks”. His achievements in this field have earned him many awards, such as the Sacconi Medal of the Italian Chemical Society, the Izatt-Christensen International Award, the Materials Research Society Medal, the King Faisal International Prize in Science (also known as the Arab Nobel Prize), the Mustafa Prize in Nano-Science and Nanotechnology and the Albert Einstein World Award of Science conferred by the World Cultural Council
Yaghi is actually the main developer of a new branch in supramolecular chemistry called “Reticular Chemistry” (In Latin “reticulum” means “small grid”). Reticular Chemistry makes it possible to combine molecules into networks that create highly porous structures with a very large surface area, enabling the efficient storage and handling of various materials “trapped” in pores (for example, various gaseous fuels), and efficient capture and storage of elements and compounds such as carbon and water. The porous feature is very important for practical purposes, as it enables the capture and compact storage of large quantities of gases in small volumes
Through the use of Reticular Chemistry, Yaghi developed two entirely new types of compounds, called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs). While the supramolecular chemistry was initially limited to relatively weak bonds, such as hydrogen bonds and Van der Waals interactions, the great advantage of Reticular Chemistry is its success in creating supramolecular structures, frameworks with very strong, covalent bonds between molecules, that give them unprecedented chemical and structural strength. Thanks to Reticular Chemistry, each of these frameworks can be viewed as a molecule. Just as the molecule determines the specific geometry and spatial array of each of the atoms, so too does the framework determine each of the molecules in a well-defined geometry and well defined spatial array. Actually, in view of the fact that these frames encompass relatively large volumes, their chemistry is much richer than that of the molecules of which they are comprised, enabling them to impart unique properties. There are many possible applications for this. For example, producing materials that capture carbon dioxide very efficiently may reduce the rate of gas entering the atmosphere, thereby reducing the trend of global warming.