The 2020 ISIS Impact Award: Science
03 Aug 2020



The winner of the ISIS Science Impact Award is Professor Jin-Chong Tan, for his group’s work on lattice dynamics in Metal-Organic Frameworks, and how this effects the way they absorb and release gases and drug molecules.




After its launch in 2018, the ISIS Impact Awards was again opened to facility users, celebrating the scientific, social and economic impact generated by our user community.

The winner of the Science Award is Professor Jin-Chong Tan from the University of Oxford, who leads the Multifunctional Materials & Composites Laboratory in the Department of Engineering Science. Since 2012, Jin-Chong's research group has used neutron vibrational spectroscopy at ISIS to investigate the distortions of Metal-Organic Framework (MOF) materials that enable them to absorb and release target molecules.

MOFs are open-framework materials that combine metal nodes and organic linkers to create crystalline frameworks that have unique chemical and physical properties, which cannot be achieved in purely inorganic or organic compounds. These unique properties can be altered by changing the composition of the MOF, leading to the intelligent design of different MOF systems with applications in technologies from gas separation to drug delivery, and from photonics to sensors.

The way that the framework distorts to enable the adsorption and release of molecules is important to understand, as controlling this could lead to a greater ability to direct the functionality. By studying the vibrational spectra of the MOFs using inelastic neutron scattering, and combining this with computational studies, Jin-Chong and his research group have been able to determine the behaviour of the MOF structure under low-frequency terahertz (THz) vibrations.

Their work revealed that the vibrational modes in the THz range are linked to the “gate opening" and pore “breathing" mechanisms of the framework, paving the way to an expanding area of research towards understanding of the role of THz vibrations in framework materials. This understanding has helped to identify ways the material could collapse under mechanical stress, and to develop new materials that are less prone to this kind of detrimental distortions. A deeper understanding of the THz modes also reveals opportunities for engineering new molecular sensors.

Building on this work, the group have investigated the low-frequency lattice vibrations of MOFs that have a molecule inside them, known as guest-encapsulated systems, including those containing anti-cancer drugs. The work has also led to the development of smart luminescent sensors that can detect toxic chemical compounds non-invasively, and sense changes in physical stimuli such as temperature and pressure.

Media and Publications

  1. Oxford Science Blog (21 Nov 2014): “Vibrations reveal how material takes a breath"
  2. Diamond Annual Review 2014/15: “Good vibrations: Terahertz modes and lattice dynamics in metal-organic frameworks"
  3. BBC Radio 4 - Science in Action Broadcast (9 Feb 2018)
  4. Oxford University News (9 Jan 2018): “Smart sensor could revolutionise crime and terrorism prevention"
  5. Invited lectures and seminars on the emerging topic of “MOF terahertz dynamics". Invited speakers at the CECAM International Workshop (Zaragoza, 2016); the UK Neutron and Muon Science User Meeting (2015) and the MOF2014 Conference (Kobe). Plenary Speaker in the CCP5 International Summer School 2016 (Lancaster) and Keynote Speaker in the 7th International Zeolite Membrane Meeting (Dalian, 2016).
  6. B.E. Souza, A.F. Möslein, K. Titov, J.D. Taylor, S. Rudic, and J.C. Tan, "Green Reconstruction of MIL‑100 (Fe) in Water for High Crystallinity and Enhanced Guest Encapsulation", ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 8, 8247-8255 (2020). DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.0c01471
  7. B.E. Souza, S. Rudić, K. Titov, A.S. Babal, J.D. Taylor and J.C. Tan, ""Guest‑Host Interactions of Nanoconfined Anti-Cancer Drug in Metal‑Organic Framework Exposed by Terahertz Dynamics"", ChemComm, 55, 3868–3871 (2019). DOI: 10.1039/C8CC10089F
  8. K. Titov, D.B. Eremin, A.S. Kashin, R. Boada, B.E. Souza, C.S.Kelley, M.D. Frogley, G. Cinque, D. Gianolio, G. Cibin, S. Rudić, V.P. Ananikov, and J.C. Tan, ""OX‑1 Metal-Organic Framework Nanosheets as Robust Hosts for Highly Active Catalytic Palladium Species"", ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, 7, 5875–5885 (2019). DOI: 10.1021/acssuschemeng.8b05843
  9. M.R. Ryder, B. Van de Voorde, B. Civalleri, T.D. Bennett, S. Mukhopadhyay, G. Cinque, F. Fernandez-Alonso, D. De Vos, S. Rudic, and J.C. Tan, ""Detecting Molecular Rotational Dynamics Complementing the Low-Frequency Terahertz Vibrations in a Zirconium-Based Metal-Organic Framework"", Physical Review Letters, 118, 255502 (2017). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.118.255502
  10. M.R. Ryder, B. Civalleri, T.D. Bennett, S. Henke, S. Rudić, G. Cinque, F. Fernandez-Alonso, J.C. Tan, “Identifying the Role of Terahertz Vibrations in Metal-Organic Frameworks: From Gate-Opening Phenomenon to Shear-Driven Structural Destabilization" Physical Review Letters 113, 215502 (2014). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.113.215502​
Contact: de Laune, Rosie (STFC,RAL,ISIS)