Town Talk: Bioinspired Sponges For Protection

Don’t miss this Town Talk on the defense applications of new, innovative research in metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) from the 2015 Royal Society of Chemistry Award Winner Omar Farha, PhD, Professor of Chemistry, Northwestern University. Tuesday, June 16, 6 p.m., Free, at Telluride Mountain Village Conference Center. Hosted by Telluride Science Research Center.


Filters: A New Defense Against Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons and agents are frequent buzzwords in the news today, resulting from the increased exposure of soldiers to harmful toxins and the disposal of stockpiles of weapons.

New research, led by chemist Omar Farha of Northwestern University, aims to solve these two problems with one solution: filters, or rather, a zirconium-based, metal-organic framework (MOF). This material is able to degrade some of the most toxic chemicals by capturing, storing and destroying harmful gases in its porous structure. These gases are often odorless and sightless, making them even more dangerous.

“MOFs are much like the filters you may have on your fridge or kitchen sink. It’s the same material, except blended with other metal oxides,” said Farha. These filters are so powerful and effective, however, that in one test MOFs were able to dismantle Soman, a more toxic relative of the gas sarin, in a matter of minutes. This makes these filters promising for use in protective gear worn by soldiers, such as gas masks. In fact, the U.S. Defense Department has picked up the research in hopes of producing the material for large-scale operations.

Its simplicity comes from a tailored crystalline structure of bonded metal elements and organic molecules.

“All the many varying metals and organic ligands give us two big toolboxes for different applications,” said Farha.

Zirconium and carboxylic acid, in this instance, make an incredibly stable structure even when tested in extreme environments, perfect for soldiers in the field.

“One of the last things a soldier needs to worry about is if his mask is going to work in a specific environment. Their mask should work anywhere regardless of where they are,” said Farha.

Anything a soldier carries needs to be rugged and able to withstand abuse. In this respect, Farha thinks the zirconium MOF is superior to other materials already in use.

Although it has been showing promising results, researchers are trying to make the material operate at an even higher capacity. This means making it more porous so it has a higher surface area and volume for capturing more particles and therefore more effective.

“People don’t appreciate how much a soldier is really carrying. Anything you remove to make his or her load lighter will make a difference,” said Farha

The second application of this material is elimination.

International organizations are often charged with destroying stockpiles of chemical weapons. Just last year, thousands of pounds of chemical agents were found in Syria. The zirconium-based, metal-organic framework may provide a better and safer route of disposal. “It’s non-corrosive, non-toxic, a low energy catalyst to destroy these weapons efficiently,” added Farha.

Farha says the MOF community emphasizes the need for simple solutions to complex problems. His elegant answer to a couple of the world’s most important issues is worth listening to.

Again, Farha will be talking about the two applications of these metal-organic frameworks he’s developing on Tuesday, June 16, at 6:00 p.m. at the Conference Center in Mountain Village. Come meet the scientists. Cash bar available starting at 5:30 p.m.

About Town Talks:

Town Talks are a series of weekly talks for the public, sponsored by the non-profit Telluride Science Research Center (TSRC). During the summer months, TSRC hosts a number of talks and conferences on molecular-based science. Scientists come from all over the world to discuss cutting-edge research and make connections for further innovation.

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