Dr Sihai Yang wins BTM Willis Prize 2013
15 May 2013



Dr Sihai Yang, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Nottingham, has been awarded the B T M Willis Prize for 2013 by the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry Neutron Scattering Group.

​Dr Sihai Yang receiving the B T M Willis Prize for research excellence at the UK Neutron and Muon User Meeting 2013

The award recognises Dr Yang’s outstanding research in the application of neutron scattering science to understand gas storage and separation properties of porous materials. Sihai was presented with his award at the UK Neutron and Muon User Meeting 2013 held on 8th April, and he was invited to give a science lecture.

“Neutron scattering is an extremely powerful technique and absolutely important to the success of my research projects,” commented Sihai. “I am honoured to receive this prestigious award and I am grateful to the selection committee for their kind remark on my research work. I would like also to thank my collaborators, scientists from ISIS and Diamond, for their invaluable inputs to these research achievements. I shall continue my research projects at these state-of-the-art central facilities in collaboration with scientists there.”

Over the past decade, the development of functional porous materials has attracted tremendous interests worldwide owing to their potential applications in hydrogen storage and carbon capture.  Understanding the mechanism by which porous materials adsorb and trap gas molecules is essential for the design of better systems. However, this study represents a major scientific challenge.

Dr Yang’s research work focuses on using inelastic neutron scattering and neutron diffraction techniques to gain insight into the interactions between adsorbed gas molecules and porous framework hosts, and a series of developments were achieved over the past four years. For example, he has developed a family of anionic framework solids with gated pore structures. These materials show interesting hysteretic hydrogen adsorption properties, a behaviour that is significant for practical hydrogen storage. In addition, Li ions were introduced into these frameworks to improve the hydrogen storage properties.

Significantly, Dr Yang used inelastic neutron scattering to explain the binding interaction of adsorbed hydrogen molecules within these framework materials, representing a great advance in understanding their interesting hydrogen storage properties. These research results have been published in a series of high profile journals, such as Nature Chemistry, Faraday Discussions, and Inorganic Chemistry, and are highlighted by Nature News and Views.

Recently, he has successfully developed the novel application of inelastic neutron scattering to study the binding interaction and dynamics of adsorbed carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide molecules within a porous host NOTT-300 which was discovered in Nottingham. The results lead to the direct visualisation and understanding of the molecular mechanism by which these harmful gases (CO2 & SO2) are captured by NOTT-300 material. This study represents important progress in the field of porous carbon capture system, because NOTT-300 does not contain toxic amine functional groups as in traditional carbon capture systems. The study on the binding interactions by using neutron scattering has led to the discovery of entirely new mechanism for the binding of carbon dioxide in such non-amine-containing system. The result was published in the journal Nature Chemistry as front cover article, and it was also reported in Reuters News and many other media outlets.