The 2019 Science Impact Award – developing functional materials
23 Apr 2019



The winner of the ISIS Science Impact Award demonstrated the value of neutron techniques for the development of functional materials for applications in the energy, environmental and well-being sectors.


​A framework of MFM-300 materials for gas separation. 

Image from Dr Sihai Yang

After its launch last year, the ISIS Impact Awards was again opened to facility users, celebrating the scientific, social and economic impact generated by the user community. The winner of the Science Award is Dr Sihai Yang from the University of Manchester, for his work using neutrons to investigate a wide range of porous materials based on metal-organic frameworks, metal oxides and phosphates, and zeolites.

Porous materials containing nano-sized cavities (1-5 nm), the walls of which are decorated with various active sites, can form unique functional platforms to study and re-define the chemistry of guest molecules within confined space and on active sites. Yang's research group uses neutron scattering techniques with the aim to determine what happens to the guest molecules inside these materials, and find out how and where the guest molecules interact with the walls of the cavities. Such knowledge will allow the design of successive generations of porous materials with enhanced functionality. Their work at ISIS since 2015 has generated 26 joint publications with ISIS scientists.

Toxic gas removal

There is increasing concern over global air quality, with high concentrations of smog posing significant health risks worldwide, particularly in countries with heavy and ageing industries and high population densities. SO2 and NO2 are the most toxic components in the smog, causing not only premature death, but also reacting with tropospheric ozone and forming acid rain. Complete removal of traces of SO2 and NO2 is extremely challenging to achieve.

Dr Yang and his group have made a series of breakthroughs on the development of robust metal-organic materials for highly efficient clean-up of SO2 and NO2. These materials show record-high adsorption capacity and selectivity of SO2 and NO2. More importantly, the captured gases are fully recovered for use in other chemical processes, and the host materials are regenerated for the next cycle of use.

Catalytic biofuel conversion

Catalysis research is fundamental for the sustainability of our society. Catalysts are used in over 80% of manufactured products, such as fuels, chemicals, polymers and pharmaceuticals, translating to 35% of the world GDP being reliant on catalytic processes. Catalysis underpins over £50 billion a year of economic activity through the UK's chemical industry.

For biomass conversion, it is critical but challenging to develop a detailed mechanistic understanding of how a catalyst functions. Yang's work has strengthened the links between neutron scattering and catalysis, promoting new discovery and knowledge in a wider range of heterogeneous catalysis. Their recent success has the potential to lead to huge reductions in the energy consumption of bio-refineries by developing new efficient catalysts, and hence reduced costs for biomass-derived materials - promoting their widespread applications.

Collaborators at ISIS: Stewart Parker, Svemir Rudic, Ivan da Silva; Pascal Manuel; Victoria Garcia-Sakai; Ian Silverwood, Samantha K. Callear, Martin Owen, Jones, Ron Smith, Bill David

Media features:  

Selected journal publications based upon studies conducted at ISIS during 2015-19

  1. Breaking the limit of lignin monomer production via cleavage of interunit carbon-carbon linkages. Chem. 2019, DOI:
  2. Discovery of complex metal oxide materials by rapid phase identification and structure determination. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2019, 1411, 4990-4996.
  3. Porous metal-organic frameworks as emerging sorbents for clean air. Nat. Rev. Chem., 2019, 3, 108-118.
  4. Modulating proton diffusion and conductivity in metal-organic frameworks by incorporation of accessible free carboxylic acid groups. Chem. Sci., 2019, 10, 1492-1499.
  5. Post-synthetic modification of the charge distribution in a metal-organic framework for optimal binding of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Chem. Sci., 2019, 10, 1472-1482.
  6. Host-guest selectivity in a series of isoreticular metal-organic frameworks: observation of acetylene-to-alkyne and carbon dioxide-to-amide interactions. Chem. Sci. 2019, 10, 1098-1106.
  7. Optimal binding of acetylene to a nitro-decorated metal-organic framework. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2018, 140, 16006-16009.
  8. Enhancement of proton conductivity in non-porous metal-organic frameworks: the role of framework proton density and humidity. Chem. Mater., 2018, 30, 7593-7602.
  9. Ammonia storage via reversible host-guest site exchange in a robust metal-organic framework. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2018, 57, 14778-14781.
  10. Direct observation of supramolecular binding of light hydrocarbons in vanadium (III) and (IV) metal-organic framework materials. Chem. Sci., 2018, 9, 3401-3408.
  11. Confinement of Iodine Molecules into Triple-helical Chains within Robust Metal–Organic Frameworks. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017, 139, 16289-16296.
  12. Porous Metal–Organic Polyhedral Frameworks with Optimal Molecular Dynamics and Pore Geometry for Methane Storage. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2017, 139, 13349-13360.
  13. Selective Production of Arenes via Direct Lignin Upgrading over A Niobium-based Catalyst. Nat. Commun., 2017, 8, 16104.
  14. Unravelling Exceptional Acetylene and Carbon Dioxide Adsorption within A Tetra-amide Functionalised Metal-Organic Framework. Nat. Commun., 2017, 8, 14085.
  15. Structural and Dynamic Studies of Substrate Binding in Porous Metal-Organic Frameworks. Chem. Soc. Rev., 2017, 46, 239-274.
  16. Modulating Supramolecular Binding of Carbon Dioxide in a Redox-Active Porous Host. Nat. Commun., 2017, 8, 14212.
  17. Amides Do Not Always Work! Observation of CO2 Binding in an Amide-Functionalised Metal-Organic Framework Material. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2016, 138, 14828-14831.
  18. Selective Adsorption of Sulphur Dioxide in a Robust Metal-Organic Framework Material. Adv. Mater. 2016, 28, 8705-8711.
  19. Direct Hydrodeoxygenation of Raw Woody Biomass into Liquid Alkanes. Nat. Commun., 2016, 7, 11162.
  20. Observation of Binding and Rotation of Methane and Hydrogen within a Metal-Organic Framework at Crystallographic Resolution. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2016, 138, 9119-9127.
  21. Proton Conduction in a Phosphonate-based Metal-Organic Framework Mediated by Intrinsic “Free Diffusion Inside a Sphere". J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2016, 138, 6352-6355.
  22. Supramolecular Binding and Separation of Hydrocarbons within a Functionalised Porous Metal-Organic Framework. Nat. Chem., 2015, 7, 121-129.

Contact: de Laune, Rosie (STFC,RAL,ISIS)