Omar Yaghi awarded 2018 Wolf Prize

February 14, 2018

For Immediate Release
Berkeley, Ca
February 14, 2018

Omar Yaghi

The Wolf Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to The James and Neeltje Tretter Professor of Chemistry Omar M. Yaghi, University of California, Berkeley, for “pioneering reticular chemistry via metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs).” Professor Yaghi shares this year’s prize with Professor Makoto Fujita from the University of Tokyo who was cited for his work in metal-directed assembly of large molecules.

“I am deeply honored to be selected for this prestigious international prize. Being informed on my birthday made it a doubly special occasion. I am grateful to the Wolf Prize selection committee members and the international jurors, as well as the confidence of those who nominated me, my colleagues here at Berkeley for their continued support and collegiality, my fellow reticular chemists around the world, and all those who have helped me over the years, most especially my former and current research group members,” stated Professor Yaghi.

“We are extremely proud of Omar, who joins a very esteemed group of previous Wolf Prize winners from the College of Chemistry. His pioneering work with MOFs is a rare example of a breakthrough that has truly launched a new field at the interface of chemistry and materials science,” remarked Douglas S. Clark, Dean, and G.N. Lewis Professor.

The 2018 Wolf Prize laureates were announced on Monday, February 12, 2018, at a special event hosted by the President of Israel, Mr. Reuven Rivlin, at his residence in Jerusalem.

Rivlin commented, "The day the winners of the Wolf Prize are announced is a day of celebration, not only for the award winners, but for scientists, researchers, artists, creators, culture lovers, the State of Israel and the entire world.” He added, “Israel is proud to encourage science and development, art and creativity, and from here, from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, we are excited to congratulate the winners.”

Announcing the awards on behalf of the Wolf Foundation, Nobel laureate Professor Dan Shechtman commented, “The prize winners’ exceptional achievements are the fruits of a never-ending journey. A courageous journey. A journey whereby one who travels, also navigates. Endless curiosity and a lack of fear of norms and prejudice inspire and drive this journey.”

Awarded each year since 1978 by the Wolf Foundation in the fields of agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics, and rotating disciplines in the arts, recipients are considered outstanding in their fields. Laureates receive their awards from the President of the State of Israel, at a special ceremony held in the parliamentary Knesset building in Jerusalem.

Yaghi earned his PhD at the University of Illinois-Urbana in 1990. He is currently the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry at UC Berkeley, and a Senior Faculty Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is the Founding Director of the Berkeley Global Science Institute. He is also the Co-Director of the Kavli Energy NanoScience Institute, and the California Research Alliance by BASF.

His work encompasses the synthesis, structure and properties of inorganic and organic compounds and the design and construction of new crystalline materials. He is widely known for inventing several extensive classes of new materials termed metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), covalent organic frameworks (COFs), and zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs). These materials have the highest surface areas known to date, making them useful in clean energy storage and generation. Specifically, applications of his materials are found in the storage and separation of hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide, and in clean water production and delivery, supercapacitor devices, proton and electron conductive systems.

MOFs,COFs, and ZIFs can be thought of as crystalline sponges on a molecular scale: highly porous materials whose pores or cells, of pre-programmable size, form an organized structure. These frameworks unite many of the properties most prized by chemists, among them a considerable capacity to adsorb other compounds, which lodge within their pores, and exceptional versatility and selectivity, with the size of the pore tailored to the target or “guest” compound. In this sense, they operate like purpose-built “molecular sieves.” As Yaghi explains it, “If one gram of a MOF material was unfolded into a single atomic-scale sheet, it would extend across the equivalent of sixty tennis courts.”

MOFs are composed of metal-oxide anchors linked by organic struts to form extended frameworks. COFs are purely organic crystalline porous structures, which extend organic chemistry beyond molecules (0D) and polymers (1D) to infinite layered (2D) and network (3D) forms. They are composed of light elements linked by covalent bonds and represent the least dense materials known to date. COFs are being studied for their applications in 2D electronics and catalysis, while ZIFs are the metal-organic analogues of well-known zeolite minerals and represent a long sought after class of materials.

Yaghi’s research into MOFs, COFs, and ZIFs is the seed that has produced a new chemistry now sweeping the world, with hundreds of laboratories pursuing fresh applications for these porous materials. The new Wolf laureate has to date, he says, counted “more than 70,000” varieties of developed crystalline materials based on reticular chemistry, which he defines as stitching molecules together by strong bonds into open frameworks.

Yaghi will join other laureates, including singer/song writer, and former Beatles member, Sir Paul McCartney, at an induction ceremony later this spring in Israel.