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TANG PRIZE/Omar M. Yaghi wins 2024 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development

06/18/2024 04:45 PM
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Omar M. Yaghi in his office at University of California, Berkeley. CNA photo June 18, 2024
Omar M. Yaghi in his office at University of California, Berkeley. CNA photo June 18, 2024

Taipei, June 18 (CNA) Omar M. Yaghi has been awarded the 2024 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development for his pioneering work on metal-organic and other ultra-porous frameworks used in carbon capture, hydrogen and methane storage and water harvesting.

Yaghi was honored "for his extraordinary contributions" to sustainable development with his pioneering metal-organic and other ultra-porous frameworks that can be tailored for carbon capture, hydrogen and methane storage, as well as water harvesting from desert air, Academia Sinica's Liu Chao-han (劉兆漢), chair of the Tang Prize Selection Committee for Sustainable Development, told a news conference Tuesday.

Speaking at the same event in Taipei, Wang Yu (王瑜) of Academia Sinica's Institute of Atomic and Molecular Sciences, said Yaghi had demonstrated "a new way to control four of the smallest gas molecules in the atmosphere that have the biggest impact on the sustainable development of our planet, [which are] carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane and water."

This is made possible by his pioneering development of a new field of chemistry, known as reticular chemistry, which is a new approach to creating materials by linking organic and inorganic units into strong, porous crystalline structures called meta-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs), Wang said.

"Through the synthetic approach to MOFs and COFs, Yaghi has created unique materials that display versatile properties," Wang added.

Specifically, these materials are known to possess record-breaking porosity, robust yet flexible crystallinity, scalability to a multiton quantity, and the chemical flexibility with which their structures can be modified on the molecular level, Wang explained.

Related news: Pioneering chemist contributes to sustainability with 'Lego building'

Hydrogen, methane, carbon dioxide and water from air can be trapped, concentrated and manipulated by the two extensive classes of novel framework materials, and thus make contributions to sustainability development, according to Wang.

In the case of hydrogen, MOF and COF materials can store hydrogen in a safer and more stationary manner, she said, benefiting the storage of hydrogen that is now seen as a source of clean energy.

Liu Chao-han, chair of the Tang Prize Selection Committee for Sustainable Development, gives an introduction of Omar M. Yaghi at a news conference Tuesday. CNA photo June 18, 2024
Liu Chao-han, chair of the Tang Prize Selection Committee for Sustainable Development, gives an introduction of Omar M. Yaghi at a news conference Tuesday. CNA photo June 18, 2024

"For methane, a fuel tank filled with MOFs can triple the amount of methane stored at room temperature and safe pressures compared to a tank without MOFs under the same conditions, and this has made it possible for automobiles to triple distance travel without refueling," Wang said.

For carbon dioxide, "Yaghi shows at room temperature, carbon dioxide storage capability could be increased 18 fold simply by adding one of his MOFs, and chemically modified MOFs and COFs are capable of selectively capturing voluminous amounts of carbon dioxide from combustion gases," Wang said.

As a pioneer of MOFs and COFs, Yaghi is the first scientist to apply these innovative materials to the field of sustainable development, demonstrating tangible and impressive results, the Tang Prize Foundation said.

Yaghi is the current James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley, and a senior faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Yaghi received lots of awards and honors from various countries, Wang noted in her introduction of the awardee. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Science in 2019, and is also a member of the German National Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Islamic World Academy of Sciences, and the European Academy of Sciences.

CNA photo June 18, 2024
CNA photo June 18, 2024

Yaghi also won the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 2018, which Wang described as "a big award in the chemistry area."

Yaghi was born to a refugee family in Amman, Jordan. "Growing up in a desert environment, he understood very well the power of science and research in transforming lives in regions where opportunities are scarce," the academician said.

The foundation added that the widespread use of MOFs and COFs worldwide has also provided Yaghi an avenue to engage emerging scholars from developing countries, as he founded the Berkeley Global Science Institute at the University of California and developed unique mentoring programs that are implemented in countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Mexico and Jordan.

Through these mentoring programs, young scholars are invited to participate in research, make a difference in their own lives, and help solve larger societal problems, according to the foundation.

The Tang Prize is a biennial award established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin (尹衍樑), chairman of the Ruentex Group, to honor people who have made prominent contributions in four categories -- sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology, and rule of law.

(By Alison Hsiao)

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