Journalist Dick Ahlstrom from the Irish Times highlighted the discovery of versatile lanthanide(III)-containing metallogels in a recent article:
The work involved mixing organic chemicals called ligands that naturally connect with the metals to form structures. He got one of his researchers, Dr Miguel Martínez-Calvo to make a simple new ligand and blended it with the metals.
“We thought we would get some kind of organic framework structure, but when we did the synthesis we got this gel, a new material that we didn’t expect,” says Dr Oxana Kotova, a research fellow in chemistry working with Gunnlaugsson. They described their findings in the current issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
It might have ended up as nothing more than gunk in the bottom of a test tube but the researchers had added two very useful metals in their gel, europium and terbium.
“We use these metals because they can connect to three or more ligands around them and they begin to organise themselves into shapes which would otherwise be impossible to form,” he says.
They self assemble to make a fibrous gel that has lots of useful properties. For example the gel readily “heals” itself after cuts or breaks.
“It is like jelly, you can push it around. We cut it with a scalpel and pulled it apart but then it grew back together and healed itself before our eyes.”
They worked with Trinity colleagues John Boland and Matthias Möbius who studied the gels at the nanotechnology scale of atoms to understand the structure.
Read the full article on the Irish Times website.