João Rocha honoured with the Luso-French Chemistry Award
2020-07-03
Société Chimique de France highlights remarkable work in the field of synthesis of porous materials and the study of their interfaces by solid-state NMR.

“It is, of course, a great pleasure to receive a career award like this, in particular for being awarded by Société Chimique de France (SCF), one of the most important scientific societies in the world.” João Rocha, director of CICECO and professor at the University of Aveiro (UA), thus comments on being honored with the Luso-French Chemistry Award.

The Award was established in 2018 by SCF and Sociedade Portuguesa de Química, and this year it was supported by a jury of renowned French chemists. “Of course, the award is also due to all the numerous collaborators from many countries, who I have the honor of having accompanied me throughout 30 years of research, namely my 28 doctorate students and 40 post-doctorate fellows,” says the distinguished member.

The researcher and professor of UA’s Department of Chemistry has been especially dedicated to the study of (nano)porous materials to which the note justifying the award refers. These materials have very thin channels at an atomic scale - only a little wider than small molecules, for example water molecules. They are a kind of molecular sieves, which can soak themselves in water and dry completely when “squeezed” (heated), thus becoming very good adsorbents of other molecules. There are many applications in “real life”, for example in the adsorption and separation of molecules of different dimensions, as catalysts in the petroleum industry, or as ion exchangers in detergents.

João Rocha explains that a certain nanoporous zirconium silicate developed in his research group found (in a somewhat modified form) a very important and unexpected application as a medicine, already on the market, for the treatment of hyperkalemia, the excess of potassium in the blood. Just swallow five grams of a white powder with this substance which, when going through the gastrointestinal tract, absorbs the potassium ions like a sponge, which is then later excreted in the feces.

“The synthesis of nanoporous materials, such as this zirconium silicate, is in essence, a form of molecular crochet in which the silicon atoms are meshes that are intertwined with four other meshes, the oxygen atoms, while the zirconium meshes are intertwined with six oxygen meshes, all together forming a cord. These are joined and juxtaposed, creating a perforated design.” Nuclear Magnetic Resonance of solids, also referred to in the explanatory note, is a sophisticated technique, very useful to study the structure of nanoporous solids, among other problems.

João Rocha, professor at UA’s Department of Chemistry, joins Armando Pombeiro, researcher at the Centre for Structural Chemistry, Instituto Superior Técnico, University of Lisbon, the first Portuguese to receive this award.

The award will be presented at an official ceremony during the meeting of Société Chimique de France from June 28th to 30th, 2021 in Nantes.

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