April 16, 2012

Successful Bruker/MIT Symposium 2012

This year’s Bruker/MIT Symposium, held on Friday February 17th and Saturday February 18th at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, was under the motto “Metal-Organic Frameworks”.

With well over 100 registered participants from 15 States and three foreign countries it was the largest Bruker/MIT Symposium yet, narrowly beating last year’s catalysis meeting. As every year, the meeting was hosted by the MIT Department of Chemistry, organized by Peter Mueller, Director of the Departmental X-ray Diffraction Facility and sponsored by Bruker-AXS.

Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) have been the ”talk of the town” in the past years as materials of the future for hydrogen storage, selective catalysis and many other important tasks. In addition, most MOF structures are esthetically highly pleasing, even though they pose major challenges for the crystallographer asked to refine them. The large pores that are characteristic for MOFs harbor disordered solvent molecules and many MOF crystals diffract the X-ray beam comparatively poorly and crack at lower temperatures.

Therefore, progress in MOF research is closely related to progress in diffraction equipment and structure refinement methods. At this year’s Bruker/MIT Symposium, we had some of the MOF-world’s leading heads, together with representatives of the world champion in innovating X-ray diffraction equipment, and some of the best crystal structure determination experts in one room and through the presentations given and the contacts made during this year’s Bruker/MIT Symposium (at least three collaborations were conceived during the coffee breaks and over dinner), the meeting became a nucleation point for scientific progress in the field of MOFs and beyond. Because of the high scholarly quality of the presentations, two participants even compared the 2012 Bruker/MIT Symposium with a Gordon Conference, which is the highest praise a small scientific conference can receive.

Following a time-honored tradition, Charles Campana (Bruker-AXS) opened the meeting, introducing of Bruker’s latest-generation line of diffraction instruments and giving many tips for improving everybody’s crystal structure determination routine. Mircea Dincă from MIT, one of the rising starts in the MOF world, spoke about "Crystalline Microporous Metal-Organic Frameworks: Opportunities in Energy Research". He allowed the audience a glimpse into his impressive research and showed beautiful crystal structures. Under the title "Framework Materials as Single-Site Solid Catalysts for Asymmetric Reactions" Wenbin Lin from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, presented a different aspect of MOF chemistry, discussing both his approaches to synthesize catalytic chiral MOFs, as well as the specific catalytic mechanisms of those large molecules. Another future-oriented and highly relevant topic is carbon dioxide capturing and Jeff Long (UC Berkeley) gave an overview of his work under the title "Carbon Dioxide Capture in Metal-Organic Frameworks". Prof. Long, who incidentally was Mircea Dincă’s PhD advisor, talked about tunable pore dimensions and adjustable surface functionality for CO2 capture for small (submarines / space stations) and large (power plants / oil industry) systems.

The lunch break was combined with a poster exhibition to which a record number of 17 participants had brought posters reflecting their most recent research. As every year, an independent jury awarded the best poster with a $500 prize. This year, the jury was headed by Allen Oliver (University of Notre Dame, Indiana), and the 2012 Bruker/MIT Poster Prize went to Christopher Kane (Georgetown University, Washington, DC) for his poster " Guest-Free Cavitands: Low Packing Fraction Materials".

In the first talk after lunch, Georges Whitesides (Harvard) changed the focus a bit to a different kind of frameworks in his inspiring and visionary talk ground about "The Role of Water in Molecular Recognition by Proteins ". Rather than the classical “lock-in-key” analogy most commonly used to describe enzyme-substrate interactions, Prof. Whitesides proposed a “sloppy fit” model where instead of hydrogen bonds between active site amino acids and the ligand molecule, the key driving force for the enzyme catalyzed reaction falls to the water molecules that are displaced from the active site. Under the title "It’s Getting Hot in Here" Roger Durst (Bruker-AXS) described details and principles behind a number of new ultra-bright X-ray sources, such as the liquid-jet anode, that are currently being developed by Bruker-AXS. The final speaker, Omar Yaghi (Prof. of Chemistry at UC Berkeley and Director of the Molecular Foundry and Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) gave an overview of "3-D ‘Genes’ in Metal-Organic Frameworks". His talk dovetailed nicely with the other topics of the day and at the end of his presentation Prof. Yaghi made a plea for increased efforts of international mentorship.

Coupled to the symposium was a refinement workshop taught by Charles Campana (Bruker-AXS), Michael Takase (Yale University), and Peter Mueller (MIT). A total of 42 participants from all over the United States learned how to use the program SHELXL to parameterize solvent disorder and tackle other refinement problems.

Except for 2003, the Bruker/MIT Symposium has been held every year since 1995, but in recent years the meeting has grown considerably. Part of this success is owed to the organization, helped by Liz McGrath, Guy Barbagelata and many others, as well as a group of outstanding speakers and, of course, all participants.

Mark your calendars: Next year’s Bruker/MIT Symposium will be held on Saturday February 16th 2013. The topic will probably be “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and X-ray Diffraction Combined for Better Structures”.