Learning about nanoporous materials

by YPU Admin on January 17, 2014. Tags: nanoscience, PhD, and Research


My name is Stephen David Worrall and I am studying for a PhD in Nanoscience through the North West Nanoscience Doctoral Training Centre (NOWNano DTC) working alongside an array of hugely talented researchers. This means I spend my time researching cutting edge science and trying to further our understanding of the world around us by performing experiments in the laboratory and reading up on the latest scientific developments. I work in the Centre for Nanoporous Materials (CNM) which is in the School of Chemistry here at the University of Manchester.

In Depth

Working in the CNM for Dr Martin Attfield means that my work focuses on the use of “nanoporous materials”. You will already be familiar with normal porous materials like sponges which contain a network of interconnected channels, where this network reaches the surface of the sponge can be seen with the naked eye. Nanoporous materials are very similar; the difference is that the interconnected channels are between 1,000,000 and 100,000,000 times smaller than in a sponge, around 1 nanometre (nm) wide instead of 10 – 1000 millimetre (mm) wide. The nanoporous materials I work on are called Metal – Organic Frameworks (MOFs) which are a new, large group of nanoporous crystals with a huge number of potential uses. I am interested in using them as moulds to “grow” metal wires which, with the network of interconnected channels in MOFs acting as a template, will be just 1 nm wide. Such small metal wires could find uses in fields as varied as the catalysis of pharmaceutically important chemical reactions and the fabrication of electronic devices. 

As well as working in the CNM, I also work for Professor Robert Dryfe in his “electrochemistry” group; where research is focussed on the interface between chemistry and electricity. It is the work in this research group that enables me to “grow” metal wires by a process called electrodeposition. The MOF crystals are attached to a sheet of metal which is negatively charged, the coated sheet of metal is then placed in a solution containing dissolved metal cations (which are positively charged). The opposite charges attract each other and the dissolved metal makes its way through the channels of the MOF crystals to reach the metal plate and deposit as solid metal, as this happens over and over again the metal wires eventually build up.

Before doing my PhD in Nanoscience, I studied for a MChem in Chemistry with Industrial Experience in the School of Chemistry here at the University of Manchester. To get on to this course I needed an A level in Chemistry and two other A levels, one of which was a science. As I’d done Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics, I was perfectly equipped! This degree was perfect for me as I got to spend my penultimate year working full time for a FTSE 100 Chemical Company and my final year working for Dr Andrew Horn as a Masters researcher in his laboratory. This gave me experience of both the industrial and academic career paths and helped me make the decision to carry on with research after I finished my degree.

It was the right decision for me as not only do I get to research new, interesting and exciting science but being a PhD researcher also gives me the opportunity to be involved in the fantastic outreach work that goes on at the University of Manchester, both as an Outreach Demonstrator for the School of Chemistry  and through my role as a Widening Participation (WP) Fellow. I get to work with school children both in their schools and at the university and enthuse them about my work and science in general through talks, workshops and practical demonstrations. There are not many other jobs where you can explode things on a regular basis!

Going Further

For a list of the researchers working in the NOWNano DTC, the fascinating and varied projects they are working on and the award winning academics they are working for see hereherehere and here.

For the latest research going on in the CNM, click here.

For details on all the different sorts of Chemistry degree the University of Manchester offers (doing a year in industry is just one of your options!), see here.

For a fantastic video showcasing a day in the life of an undergraduate chemistry student (and a little bit of the exciting stuff you can get up to as an Outreach demonstrator!), click here.

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