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Omar Yaghi to direct Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry

Omar Yaghi, 46, one of the world’s most cited chemists whose inventions include metal organic frameworks (MOFs), the crystalline storage vessels touted for their capacity to capture and contain carbon dioxide and other gases, and reticular chemistry, the technique for stitching together individual molecules into predetermined structures, has been named the new director of the Molecular Foundry at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

His appointment was effective 3 January 2012. The Molecular Foundry is a US Department of Energy (DOE) nanoscience research center.

Yaghi, who will also hold an appointment with the University of California (UC) Berkeley chemistry department, comes to Berkeley from UCLA, where he was the Jean Stone Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Professor of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, among other positions.

Born in Amman, Jordan, Yaghi received his B.S. in chemistry from the State University of New York-Albany in 1985, and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois-Urbana in 1990. Following two years as an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University, he joined the faculty at Arizona State University. Seven years later he became a professor of chemistry at the University of Michigan. He joined the UCLA faculty in 2005 where he would become the director of the Center for Reticular Chemistry at the California NanoSystems Institute.

This past year, the Thomson Reuters organization, which rates scientists based on the impact of their published research, ranked Yaghi the number two chemist in the world out of a pool of more than 6,000. In the first ten years of this century, he was credited with 90 published scientific papers that were cited 19,670 times by other scientists—for an “impact score,” or average, of roughly 221 citations per paper.

Other recognitions include the Solid State Chemistry Award of the American Chemical Society (ACS) and Exxon, the Sacconi Medal of the Italian Chemical Society, DOE’s Hydrogen Program Award, the Materials Research Society Medal, the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize for the best paper published in Science, and the ACS’ Chemistry of Materials Award. In 2006, he was named one of the Popular Science Magazine’s “Brilliant 10” for his work on hydrogen storage.

Yaghi is perhaps most famous for his invention of entire new classes of materials, which in addition to MOFs also include zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs). These materials make it possible to store vast quantities of natural gas, hydrogen or carbon dioxide in confined spaces. The reticular chemistry technique he developed makes it possible to synthesize extended structures from purely organic, inorganic and metal-organic building blocks. His research holds high promise for a wide range of technologies including clean energy, catalysis, and gas storage and separation.

The Molecular Foundry is one of five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers (NSRCs), national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale, supported by the DOE Office of Science. Together the NSRCs comprise a suite of complementary facilities that provide researchers with advanced capabilities to fabricate, process, characterize and model nanoscale materials, and constitute the largest infrastructure investment of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

The NSRCs are located at DOE’s Argonne, Brookhaven, Lawrence Berkeley, Oak Ridge and Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

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