Functional Flexible Frameworks: Making Materials inspired by Minerals
Anisha Bahl (student) & Dr Hamish Yeung (supervisor)
This PER project took various models and demonstrations to the Museum of Natural History to explain to people of all ages the structures of minerals, how these have inspired the creation of new framework materials studied by the Yeung and Goodwin groups at Oxford Chemistry, and the potential uses of these materials. Two public displays were held in the Museum’s Central Atrium, where anybody could approach the stand and learn about whichever aspects interested them, and one smaller event with a youth group which took the format of a talk and hands-on discussion.
The project focussed on four minerals–zeolite, perovskite, cristobalite, and quartz–and their corresponding materials–zeolitic imidazolate frameworks, hybrid perovskites, zinc dicyanide and zinc dicyanoaurate. Whilst some of the minerals have uses of their own, in our research we are actively studying the materials, whose structures are chemically derived from the minerals, for a range of applications, including gas storage, computing, and sensing. For each mineral/material pair, we built 200,000,000:1 scale models of their crystal structures using parts custom-ordered from Cochranes of Oxford. These were juxtaposed with a beautiful sample of the mineral from the Museum’s collection (in the photo is an example of quartz), together with hands-on props designed to illustrate the connection between crystal structures and the properties of the minerals/materials. We also displayed information about the minerals’ origins and potential applications of the materials on a series of cards.
In addition to the model sets, we constructed a kit containing all the elements required for an interactive (slightly wet and messy!) demonstration of the molecular sieving properties of the zeolite/zeolitic imidazolate framework pair of models. During the public displays, this demonstration was performed every 10-15 minutes to one side of the model display, and served to direct further attention to the exhibit.
The project was hugely successful with the majority of the feedback showing that the participants both enjoyed and learnt from it. The verbal and written feedback both demonstrated that the information was clearly presented and at an accessible level to those viewing it. Whilst initially aimed at secondary school children, primary school children and even younger really enjoyed the display and many showed a clear understanding of some of the concepts (the photo bottom left shows siblings examining the perovskite structure). Conversely there were many adults who also gained a lot from the experience and comments that they “never understood science at school” were quickly replaced by feedback that it was “very easy to understand and interesting.” The museum also commented that they would be interested in using parts or all of the display in future events. Overall the project was considered a success in the sense that it provided a fun and interesting way for a wide range of people to engage with the Department’s scientific research.
The models and demonstration are now available as an easily portable kit-in-a-box, for taking to other events, such as science fairs, festivals and schools, in the future. Please get in touch to find out more!
Many thanks to Carly Huggins-Smith and OUM, Soozy Smith (photo permission) and Hanna Bostroem, Chloe Coates & Emily Reynolds for demonstrating.