... Until now that is, thanks partly to an EPSRC-funded project 'Developing the Culture of Adventure', through which Stuart James first focused on the possibility of creating porous liquids.
Now, with funding from the Leverhulme Trust, it appears his five-year quest is nearing a successful conclusion. He and his team believe they have succeeded in producing the first liquid with permanent microscopic holes.
"Solids with holes between the molecules act like molecular sieves. They are commonly used for a wide variety of purposes such as removing pollutants from the environment and drug delivery," says Stuart.
"But a liquid that selectively absorbs molecules according to their size and shape the way porous solids do, but much more quickly, is unheard of. It is such a novel concept it is difficult at this stage to predict the potentially huge range of uses it could be put to.
"It is likely, however, that a liquid molecular sieve could be applied in a similar way to dialysis treatments. It might also act as a highly effective medium for storing 'difficult' gasses such as hydrogen which may fuel the vehicles of the future."
Work is still underway to verify the unique properties of the liquid which is composed of complex, specially engineered carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen structures. It is expected this will be completed successfully in the near future. At that point the research emphasis will switch to studying its unique properties. When these are better understood, the next phase will be to identify potential applications followed by commercialisation.
Attracted by Queen's University's strong reputation in inorganic chemistry, Stuart joined the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering in 1999. Previously he held a variety of posts at Imperial College, Cambridge University and in France and Holland.
The Developing the Culture of Adventure project reflects his passion for encouraging new ways of thinking about science. He believes this creative trait stems, at least in part, from his teenage years when he studied classical guitar at the Royal Academy of Music. His ambition then was to become a professional musician.
"Notes are the basic building blocks of music in the same way, as I later discovered, that molecules are the building blocks of nature. You can play with them and put them together in ways they haven't been arranged before."
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