Photo of Liang FENG

Nanotechnology & materials

Liang FENG

A new adsorption mode that is the first major fundamental advancement in surface chemistry.

Year Honored

Northwestern University

The extraction of chemicals from solutions onto solids and surfaces is the basis for a variety of chemical and biological analysis and separation-related scientific techniques, such as waste and pollutant treatment, precious metal recovery, and heterogeneous catalysis. So far, there is no way to actively drive such a process.

Based on the design concept of molecular machines (2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry), Liang Feng pioneered the design of a series of molecular machines and placed them on the surface of 2D nanomaterials in a directional and quantitative manner, leading to the discovery of a new adsorption mode, namely mechanisorption. This work, published in Science in 2021, has been widely reported by the media, and recently won many awards, such as the International Adsorption Society Research Excellence Award.

This new adsorption mode, mechanisorption, is very different from the equilibrium adsorption (physisorption and chemisorption) that has dominated the adsorption field in the past. It is an adsorption mode caused by the formation of mechanical bonds between the adsorbent and the adsorbate due to non-equilibrium pumping. Ultimately, this novel approach is expected to enable cost-effective capture, remediation, and purification of key industrial targets such as hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and micropollutants. Furthermore, it has broad implications for future applications in molecular recognition, optoelectronics, drug delivery, carbon capture, and desalination. There is good reason to believe that the concept of mechanisorption will command textbook attention one day.