In mesoporous materials, the pore openings are far smaller than in a normal sponge: their diameters range from 2 to 50 nanometres and are invisible to the naked eye. Nevertheless, they have a number of interesting properties, including with regard to separating substances. This occurs as a function of molecule and pore size, for example.
Until now, scientific experiments have only been able to approximate the desired properties of these materials. “So it is more down to experience whether you can determine which of the structures can be used for which applications,” says the physicist. The problem is that these materials are mostly disordered, which means that pores of different sizes in the material form a complex network structure.
Researchers at Leipzig University developed a model that determines the features that can be observed in such complex pore networks. Professor Valiullin describes the approach as follows: “We can statistically describe how the individual pores in these networks are coupled to each other. We marry disorder with order.” This makes it possible to determine the physical phenomena that need to be understood in gas-liquid and solid-liquid phase transitions, for example. And not only in theory: using special mesoporous modelling, it was possible to prove with the aid of modern nuclear magnetic resonance methods that the theoretical results can also be directly applied in practice.
This should make it easier to use such materials in the future, for example to help release drugs into the human body over an extended period – precisely when necessary and desired. Other potential applications for such materials include sensor technology or energy storage and conversion.
Original title of the publication in the American Chemical Society journal Langmuir:
“Impact of Geometrical Disorder on Phase Equilibria of Fluids and Solids Confined in Mesoporous Materials”, doi.org/10.1021/acs.langmuir.0c03047