Omar Yaghi in lab

Research Expertise and Interest

Reticular Chemistry, metal-organic frameworks, covalent organic frameworks, Carbon Capture, gas storage systems, water harvesting from desert air.

Research Description

Professor Yaghi is widely known for pioneering metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs). These materials have the highest surface areas known to date, making them useful for hydrogen and methane storage, carbon capture and conversion, water harvesting from desert air, and catalysis, to mention a few. The chemistry approach he developed has led to an exponential growth in the creation of new materials. He termed this field 'Reticular Chemistry' and defines it as 'stitching molecular building blocks into extended structures by strong bonds'. He has published over 300 peer-reviewed articles on MOFs and COFs, which have received a total of more than 205,000 citations. He has an h-index of 175 and ranked as the second most impactful chemist worldwide (Top 100 Chemists, Thomson Reuters, 2011).

Specifically, Yaghi reported in 1995 the synthesis and crystallization of the first metal-organic frameworks in which metal ions are joined by charged organic linkers (carboxylates). The strong metal-carboxylate bonds provided for (1) an architecturally robust framework and permanent porosity as he showed in 1998, and (2) metal-carboxylate clusters, termed secondary building units (SBUs), that he used in 1999 as anchors to build MOF-5 having an exceptionally high porosity (2900 m2/g). This value far exceeded the record held by other porous solids. Yaghi used his strong bond, SBU approach to report MOF-177 in 2004 and MOF-210 in 2010 with even higher record-breaking porosities (4,500 and 10,400 m2/g, respectively). His approach was also critical in achieving MOFs with 10 nm pore sizes, the largest of any porous crystal. In 2005, Yaghi showed how organic molecules can be linked by covalent bonds to make the all organic 2D covalent organic frameworks (COFs) and in 2007 extended his strategy to 3D COFs, where crystals of a member of this family, COF-108, has an ultra-porous structure, making it the least dense material known. Ultra-porous MOFs and COFs became the basis of what is being used now for their numerous utilities in gas storage and separations. The strong bonds holding MOFs and COFs allow their use over thousands of cycles and longevity in industrial applications.  

Professor Yaghi's invention of MOFs and COFs is helping to achieve cleaner air, cleaner energy, and cleaner water. Yaghi’s pioneering work on carbon dioxide capture and hydrogen storage with MOFs and COFs opened the door for achieving “net zero emissions” in the future. His creative development of using MOFs and COFs to harvest water from desert air is an excellent example how a chemist can break the traditional disciplinary boundaries and take a laboratory basic science observation all the way to society. His group designed several prototypes and showed that these MOF water harvesters work well in some of the driest deserts in the world (Arizona and the Mojavi deserts). His MOF water harvester has been demonstrated and has the potential to provide clean water anywhere at any time of the year and ultimately give people water independence. Yaghi’s MOF water harvesting technology has been showcased at the 2017 World Economic Forum as one of the top ten emerging technologies to change the world. IUPAC in 2019 also named Yaghi’s MOF water harvesting one of the top 10 breakthroughs in chemistry.

Yaghi is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (2019) and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (2022). He has also been honored with many awards, including the Sacconi Medal of the Italian Chemical Society (2004), Materials Research Society Medal (2007), American Chemical Society Award in the Chemistry of Materials (2009), Royal Society of Chemistry Centenary Prize (2010), King Faisal International Prize in Science (2015), Albert Einstein World Award of Science (2017), BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences (2017), Wolf Prize in Chemistry (2018), Eni Award for Excellence in Energy (2018), Gregori Aminoff Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (2019), August-Wilhelm-von-Hofmann-Denkmünze of the German Chemical Society (2020), Royal Society of Chemistry Sustainable Water Award (2020), Belgium’s International Solvay Chair in Chemistry (2021), and VinFuture Prize for Emerging Science and Technology (2021).

In the News

Programmable synthetic materials

Artificial molecules could one day form the information unit of a new type of computer or be the basis for programmable substances. The information would be encoded in the spatial arrangement of the individual atoms – similar to how the sequence of base pairs determines the information content of DNA, or sequences of zeros and ones form the memory of computers.

Eight Berkeley faculty elected to National Academy of Sciences

In recognition of their outstanding achievements in original research, eight UC Berkeley faculty have been elected members of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most distinguished scientific organizations in the country. The newly elected researchers include a neuroscientist, two physicists, two cellular biologists, a computer scientist, a chemist and an economist, and bring the total number of living UC Berkeley faculty who are members of the academy to 135.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
December 14, 2023
Michael Eisenstein

Water-absorbing compounds called metal–organic frameworks — developed in the lab of Chemistry Professor Omar Yaghi — could be part of a future in which any house with electricity could reliably address its drinking-water needs with an appliance roughly the size of a microwave oven.

November 19, 2021
Steven Ashley
An ultraporous compound can extract water molecules from dry desert air, store them as tiny "icicles" and then release them as clean drinking water. A new study has shown this novel humidity sponge's developers how it works in detail, taking it a step closer to practical applications. Along with government, industry and university partners, the researchers are working to turn their project into portable hydration systems capable of conjuring fresh water almost anywhere in an increasingly thirsty world. The specific mechanism underlying these superior water-extraction abilities has now been explained by an international team led by University of California, Berkeley, chemist Omar Yaghi . "We figured out which water comes first and the way it fills up, step by step," he says. Yaghi's team had previously developed MOF-303 specifically for water extraction and successfully demonstrated it in dry laboratory conditions.
January 14, 2020
Berkeley researchers continue to improve upon a water harvester that can pull water from air, even in desert conditions, striving to make it cheaper and more effective. The team, led by chemistry professor Omar Yaghi, announced its latest iteration of the harvester last year, claiming it was 10 times better than an earlier version. But now they're proposing to replace its zirconium-based metal-organic framework with one that is based on aluminum, not just because it's cheaper, but because it's better at binding to and then releasing water. They are also adding graphite to the framework to make it black and therefore heat-absorbing. Speaking of the Berkeley harvester and another one being developed at the University of Connecticut, this reporter says: "Both proposals work. Tested in desert-like conditions in a laboratory -- and in Dr Yaghi's case in an actual desert, too -- they absorb and regurgitate reasonable fractions of their weight of water every day. They are nothing like as productive as desalination plants, and so would have to be built at large scale to generate water in commercially useful quantities. But one thing deserts do have is lots of cheap land. If either or both of these inventions can be manufactured at scale, then the deserts may bloom -- if not with plants, at least with water-collection farms." For more on Berkeley's harvester, see our press release from last August at Berkeley News.
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August 29, 2019
A new version of a water harvester that can pull water from air, even in desert conditions, is 10 times better than an earlier version and is headed for market. A team of scientists led by chemistry professor Omar Yaghi developed the device, which uses a water-absorbing material called a metal-organic framework, or MOF, to reliably produce more than five cups, or 1.3 liters, of water per day per kilogram of MOF. That amount of water is more than required for one person to stay alive. "We are making ultra-pure water, which potentially can be made widely available without connection to the water grid," Professor Yaghi says. "This water mobility is not only critical to those suffering from water stress, but also makes possible the larger objective -- that water should be a human right." Professor Yaghi's startup, Water Harvester Inc., is testing and will soon begin marketing a harvester that can supply 7 to 10 liters of water a day -- enough for two to three adults. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Stories on this topic appeared in dozens of sources around the world, including Centre Daily Times and Technology Networks.
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