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Synthetic Materials Set New World Record For Greatest Amount of Surface Area

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the narrowly-beating-out-your-mamma dept.

Science 96

Zothecula writes "Researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois, have broken a world record in the creation of two synthetic materials, named NU-109 and NU-110, which have the greatest amount of surface areas of any material to date (abstract). To put this into perspective: if one were able to take a crystal of NU-110 the size of a grain of salt, and somehow unfold it, the surface area would cover a desktop. Additionally, the internal surface area of just one gram of the new material would cover one-and-a-half football fields."

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96 comments

SI units, please (5, Insightful)

Lumpio- (986581) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308601)

Could we have the equivalent of "a desktop" and "one-and-a-half football fields" in a more scientific unit? I'm not American enough to remember how big a "football field" is.

Re:SI units, please (5, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308637)

How many magic bags of holding is it comparable to?

Re:SI units, please (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309317)

Actually it is the inverse of a bag of holding. A bag of holding has a small surface area for a huge internal volume.

Re:SI units, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41312901)

So, (magic bag of holdings) ^ -1 , then.

Re:SI units, please (1)

codepigeon (1202896) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308695)

1.2 baseball fields = 1 football field or if you prefer

one desk = the surface area of a 30pack of Budweiser

Re:SI units, please (1)

BurningFeetMan (991589) | about a year and a half ago | (#41309503)

How many "Sydney Harbours" is that? Which then translates to how many Olympic sized swimming pools?

Re:SI units, please (1)

drkim (1559875) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310049)

Sorry, this is /.

That surface area is the same as Bill Gates home+garage on Lake Washington. (Really.)

Re:SI units, please (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | about a year and a half ago | (#41309895)

1.2 baseball fields = 1 football field or if you prefer

one desk = the surface area of a 30pack of Budweiser

You darn americans with your strange units of measurement...

How many Heinekens does it measure?

Re:SI units, please (1)

petsounds (593538) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310019)

Heineken?? Fuck that shit! PABST BLUE RIBBON!

Re:SI units, please (2)

mwvdlee (775178) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310181)

Heineken?? Fuck that shit!

Taking into account the inner metric diameter of the neck of a Heineken bottle, I regret to inform you that your request cannot be granted due to mechanical incompatibilities.

Re:SI units, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41311841)

Step 1: Turn bottle around.
Step 2: Turn yourself around.

See, now there's plenty of room!

Re:SI units, please (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#41314517)

The guy you quoted is wrong. Unfold a 30 pack beer box and it's a very small desk.; a desk is a little less than two meters wide and a little more than a meter the other way. And a can of Heinie is the same size and shape as a can of Bud; liquid containers here actually use metric measurements, although there's a conversiion printed on the label.

Re:SI units, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41308955)

And as an American I don't know what a gram is.

Re:SI units, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309057)

An egg is roughly 60 gram. (chicken)

Re:SI units, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309281)

A sugar packet is 1 gram.

Re:SI units, please (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309433)

Relate it to the cocaine you buy and it becomes more manageable.

Re:SI units, please (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308989)

That would be 1.46e32 barns.

(Or 0.0146 km squared if you want to be boring...)

Re:SI units, please (1)

Nemyst (1383049) | about a year and a half ago | (#41309011)

That's what I get for skimming the abstract. 0.0146km^2/g is the hypothetical maximum surface area they have determined through computational simulations. The actual surface area of the material they have conceived is around 7000 m^2/g.

Re:SI units, please (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year and a half ago | (#41309047)

I'm not American enough to remember how big a "football field" is.

about three quarters of an Association pitch.

Re:SI units, please (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309447)

How small are these objects? Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesnt surface area lose meaning at a small enough scale? E.g. What is the surface area of an atom? Of the electrons and protons and quarks it contains? Isnt this like trying to find the length of an edge on a fractal?

Re:SI units, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309633)

1 Desktop, a Dt? A football field, 1 FBF? Seriously, these are not standard units? :-)

Re:SI units, please (1)

kasper37 (90457) | about a year and a half ago | (#41309651)

The point is to convey scale, and for the vast majority of people, salt, desktop, gram and football field do a better job of that than 1x10-4 m^3, 1 m^2, gram and 5000 m^2.

Re:SI units, please (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | about a year and a half ago | (#41309903)

A football pitch is roughly one acre. Which is still not SI, but is one furlong by one chain if that helps.

Re:SI units, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41312203)

you're off by a mile! 1 furlong x 1 chain = 220 x 22 yards. an american
football field on the other hand is 120 x 53 and 1/3 yards.

Re:SI units, please (1)

LeadSongDog (1120683) | about a year and a half ago | (#41312897)

an american football field on the other hand is 120 x 53 and 1/3 yards.

Well, that explains why the Bills keep losing: they've been stopping after 100!

Re:SI units, please (1)

chrismcb (983081) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310547)

Could we have the equivalent of "a desktop" and "one-and-a-half football fields" in a more scientific unit? I'm not American enough to remember how big a "football field" is.

What does a "football field" have to do with America? Yes an American Football field size isn't the same as the rest of the world Football field... But it is close enough for this article.

Re:SI units, please (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about a year and a half ago | (#41312079)

Well, there's not such thing as a standard desktop, so your guess is as good as mine on that. A US football field, however, is 120 yards long (including the end zones) by 160 feet wide, so it's 57,600 square feet, or 6400 square yards.

Re:SI units, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41327555)

Think soccer field instead of footbal field, if you like... Seriously, the internal surface area is about 7 square kilometers per kilogram or ~1.2 square miles per pound. The two materials are crystalline, the channels in each are completely uniform, and their widths are precisely known, as are the locations and identities of all the component atoms, based on x-ray diffraction and related measurements. The original article shows out that the hypothetical ceiling for this class of materials is around 15 square kilometers per kilogram -- much higher than scientists previously imagined. This opens up potential applications that were previously thought to be out of reach and perhaps is a more important finding over the long term than the actual design and assembly of the new record holders. The surface area per unit of mass of each of the two new materials is substantially higher than that of graphene (even counting the area on both sides of a graphene sheet) and much higher than even the lightest aerogels. (Aerogels, though, do have lower densities -- mainly because the irregular pores and channels within them are much larger than in the new materials.)

Strictly speaking, the *accessible* surface area of a porous material depends on the size of whatever it is that you are trying to pack on the surface. (In other words, are the probe particles larger than or smaller than the widths of the holes in these sponge-like compounds?) With these materials, the surface area was examined both experimentally and computationally by packing a single layer of small molecules throughout the crystal, both inside and out. This makes sense from a practical standpoint since the most intriguing potential near term applications of these and closely related materials are controlled storage and release of natural gas (mainly methane, a small molecule; now cost-competitive with gasoline as a vehicle fuel), carbon capture (in the form of CO2), storage and release of molecular hydrogen (the ultimate clean-burning fuel and also useable in fuel cells; google "Mercedes-Benz F-125 concept car" where storage is described as the biggest remaining technical challenge), separation of very similar molecules (for example ethane versus ethylene) that are used commercially in unbelievably large quantities but are very expensive (both in dollars/euros and energy) to separate by the best existing methods, e.g. cryogenic distillation, and capture of and protection against improvised chemical weapons (for example, stolen toxic industrial chemicals such as propylene oxide, ammonia, or sulfur dioxide). To stop these volatile chemicals from entering lungs, you need a filtering material that lets air through but has a gigantic surface area for binding the chemical threats and yet weighs very little. Unfortunately, compounds like ammonia sail straight through the active sorbent currently used in gas masks (mainly graphene/graphite-like porous carbon).

And to put this in perspective further... (2)

Jiro (131519) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308619)

What was the previous record? This is a lousy article, since it gives us no reason to think that this is really a breakthrough. From the description it sounds like an aerogel.

Re:And to put this in perspective further... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309493)

i thought areogels just contained a lot of air/gas.

Re:And to put this in perspective further... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41311101)

r u kidding? if you are smart enogh, you would know that aerogels has less than 1000m2/g surface and these materials have higher than 70000.

What are the implications? (3, Interesting)

joelwhitehouse (2571813) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308625)

The article says the synthetic material is porous. Can this material be used as a water filter? If the material forms a cage like structure, can it be used in medicine to trap a virus or bacterium before infection occurs? What can you do with such a material?

Re:What are the implications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41308659)

Read the article. It's in JACS, every university will have a subscription to that.

Re:What are the implications? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41310673)

Some of us somehow managed to graduate from university.

Re:What are the implications? (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308675)

No good as a water filter - no matter how much you pour in it just vanishes....

Re:What are the implications? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about a year and a half ago | (#41315997)

No good as a water filter - no matter how much you pour in it just vanishes

My god, someone invented Thiotimoline!! [wikipedia.org]

Re:What are the implications? (3, Informative)

jo_ham (604554) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308765)

Catalysis, gas storage, filtering, scaffolds for molecular construction etc.

Extremely high surface area materials are already extensively used in chemistry for this sort of thing.

Re:What are the implications? (1)

drkim (1559875) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310073)

Drug delivery.

Re:What are the implications? (5, Funny)

Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310121)

I thought Mexicans were unquestionable leaders in this field?

(Hey, I have nothing against Mexicans or even light drugs like the weed, really.)

Re:What are the implications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41316281)

I thought Mexicans were unquestionable leaders in this field?

Keep your racism to yourself, please.

Re:What are the implications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41327591)

No es chistoso.

Re:What are the implications? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41308877)

I am co-author on this paper. Yes, it can potentially be used as a water filter! The pores of these MOFs are too small to trap a virus, but there are other MOFs that could do that potentially.

Re:What are the implications? (1)

mug funky (910186) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310743)

would it be a possible replacement for activated carbon as an adsorbent?

would it be reusable?

Re:What are the implications? (1)

chriswilmer (2728043) | about a year and a half ago | (#41312065)

Absolutely! Today, these MOFs are more expensive than activated carbon, but tomorrow who knows? Also, MOFs can potentially filter out things that activated carbon can't.

Re:What are the implications? (1)

JustOK (667959) | about a year and a half ago | (#41311143)

too SMALL to trap a virus?

Re:What are the implications? (2)

chriswilmer (2728043) | about a year and a half ago | (#41312089)

Yes, too small! The smallest virus that I am aware of has a diameter of 20 nanometers. The pores of MOFs are typically only a few nanometers (which is huge when it comes to trapping gas molecules). However, some day we may be able to design MOFs with much larger pores, which will be really cool for biological applications.

Re:What are the implications? (4, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308985)

Depending on its electrical properties it could be a component of an ultracapacitor.

Re:What are the implications? (1)

drkim (1559875) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310071)

Depending on its electrical properties it could be a component of an ultracapacitor.

...or a very tiny antenna. (similar to the way they are using fractal antennae.)

Re:What are the implications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41310641)

But could it also be part of a flux capacitor?

Mod parent DOWN! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41311985)

+4? Please.

Please tell me how this would be used as an ultracapacitor. Just because you have surface area does NOT mean that there is any way to create plates.

People posting on this site are incredibly stupid. The moderators might just be more stupid.

Re:Mod parent DOWN! (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about a year and a half ago | (#41319801)

But if there was a way to create plates it could be a component of an ultracapacitor.

The OP was asking what the possible uses might be. I made one up. That's all anyone else did who replied, too.

Re:What are the implications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309793)

What would happen if we put some of it into a bottle of cola?

Re:What are the implications? (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310259)

Potentially oil refining. Many processes in the oil industry such as fluidised catalytic cracking rely on a catalyst with really large surface area to control the thermal cracking of hydrocarbons. The question is, for it to be useful in many chemical and process plants, will it survive being heated to 700degC

Capacitor (4, Interesting)

pcjunky (517872) | about a year and a half ago | (#41308711)

I wonder how large a capacitor density could e made with this stuff?

Re:Capacitor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41308915)

Nobody knows! It's a fertile area for future research.

Aerogel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41309403)

Isn't this just another way of describing an aerogel?

Re:Aerogel? (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about a year and a half ago | (#41313349)

Doesn't aerogel specify density more than surface area? I mean yes, it has a huge surface area, but that wasn't the single identifying characteristic.

Pedantry FTW (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year and a half ago | (#41309837)

which have the greatest amount of surface areas of any material to date

if one were able to take a crystal of NU-110 the size of a grain of salt, and somehow unfold it, the surface area would cover a desktop.

That's nothing, I've got a tablecloth that covers an entire table.

But seriously folks, is this area/volume? Area/mass?

Re:Pedantry FTW (1)

chriswilmer (2728043) | about a year and a half ago | (#41312099)

The record that is broken is an area/mass value. Specifically, 7100 meters squared per gram of material (NU-110).

Re:Pedantry FTW (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year and a half ago | (#41313577)

I'm not sure I'm wrapping my head around this properly. How would this area compare, say, to a hypothetical single layer of graphite?

Re:Pedantry FTW (1)

chriswilmer (2728043) | about a year and a half ago | (#41314015)

A single layer of graphite (which is called graphene) would have a higher surface area per unit weight than this MOF. However, try making three-dimensional porous structure out of it!

Is it sticky? (2)

Another, completely (812244) | about a year and a half ago | (#41310217)

Does this do the van der Waals force trick that Gecko feet do, or does it need to be more flexible for that?

Re:Is it sticky? (2)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about a year and a half ago | (#41311427)

The surface area is mostly holes running through each 'grain' of this stuff, so you can't put it up against another surface to do that trick.

Finally - something better than Mentos! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41311417)

*grabs some Diet Coke bottles*

Really useful for Youtube (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41311535)

This stuff must be so much better than Mentos in my diet Coke.

Yeah!!! (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year and a half ago | (#41311833)

Doing sh*t because we can! Now scientists will spend 100 years trying to figure out what to do with these crystals. Will end up in iPhone50 S.

Re:Yeah!!! (2)

chriswilmer (2728043) | about a year and a half ago | (#41312121)

Actually, very high surface area materials already have a lot of important industrial uses. Your at-home water filters, for example, are function entirely on the basis of having a larger surface area to weight ratio. So, materials like these have immediate uses as water filters (and many many other things, such as storing natural gas in cars: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaKSekjAnqY [youtube.com]).

Police Box (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41311857)

What would happen if I grew a Police Box out of these crystals?

Paraphrasing Steven Wright... (1)

mlosh (18885) | about a year and a half ago | (#41311975)

It's a small grain of NU-110, but I wouldn't want to paint it.

This may be slightly pedantic, but... (1)

edraven (45764) | about a year and a half ago | (#41312075)

Should they not be talking about the greatest _ratio_ of surface area to volume? The Earth itself, for example, has a pretty great amount of surface area.

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