A quick interview with Philip Milner, NSF Early Career Award Recipient
What are your research interests?
My research group is broadly interested in the applications of porous crystalline materials, specifically metal-organic and covalent organic frameworks. We are interested in leveraging the unparalleled tunability of these materials for new applications in organic synthesis, medicinal chemistry, chemical separations, and even structural biology through a project in collaboration with CHESS.
What are the broader impacts of your research?
We hope to unite disparate fields such as crystallography and materials science with organic and medicinal chemistry. Our new materials can have applications in the synthesis and characterization of new biologically active molecules. In addition, we are designing new materials that can facilitate industrial chemical separations, which currently account for 15% of global energy use – more efficient separations could lead to reduced global energy use. Our CCMR seed project, which involves collaborators at CHESS, aims to ultimately use porous crystalline materials to facilitate the crystallization of proteins, which is currently a major bottleneck in structural biology.
How are you using CHESS to advance your research?
We have carried out single crystal X-ray diffraction measurements of metal-organic frameworks at CHESS, in collaboration with Prof. Nozomi Ando (CHEM) and Dr. Aaron Finke (CHESS). These experiments have provided unparalleled insight into the structural features of MOFs with pores >4 nm in size, helping us to set the record for the largest pore frameworks characterized by single crystal X-ray diffraction. These materials are mostly solvent and empty space!
How do you align your research goals with your educational goals?
Like the research in my group, my teaching is highly interdisciplinary. I teach both organic chemistry and solid-state chemistry, two areas that are rarely connected together. This forces me to think about new ways to connect these fields and spark an interdisciplinary interest in chemistry within students who take my courses.
And how does CHESS help contribute to that? (if at all)
As part of my solid-state chemistry course, I have taken students on a walking tour of CHESS – they really enjoyed it!
What does this award mean for the advancement of your research?
This award gives us the freedom to answer a question I have always found fascinating – how would an organic chemist think about industrial separations of chemicals? Separations currently account for about 15% of global energy use, and most are achieved using differences in physical properties (such as distillations or adsorptive separations). We have been thinking about separations on the basis of chemical reactivity, which is largely only studied for carbon dioxide capture right now. This proposal gives us a chance to look into extending this idea into other types of separations that have never been explored in the context of reactivity-based separations.