BEAT7968“What is the very first thing you want to do every morning, right after you wake up? I could be honest and say ‘kiss my husband’, but the truth is I am ready to go to work. I enjoy every day being surrounded by science and microscopes!” declared Beatriz Seoane de la Cuesta at the opening of her talk about nanostructured porous materials.

The fact that few of us have heard of these little phenomena is rapidly about to change as science and technology explore the potential of these materials to tackle global societal challenges such as climate change, pollution, and the ongoing task of satisfying society’s high demands for energy in a sustainable manner.

Consider the combustion of coal and natural gas that we use to produce the energy we need, creating tiny molecules. These gas molecules have different sizes, making gas separation difficult and expensive. But what if there was a way to filter them? Enter the nanostructured porous materials. Imagine a sponge with holes perfectly ordered and very small, the size of different molecules. Nanostructured porous materials have a perfect order and structure at the nanoscale, one million times smaller than the tip of a pen, and yet they can be used as a molecular sieve to filter the tiny molecules.

The main obstacle Seoane observes in the effort to realize the potential of nanoporous materials is the issue of their “processability”, a key property in material science. Traditional tools cannot be used to process nanomaterials. But nature might offer help. Consider bones – two materials compose them, but as they are extremely ordered there is an extraordinary design. Bones can be 3D printed for bio-medical purposes, meaning that it could perhaps be possible to print these nanomaterials as well.

We could be closer to a cleaner atmosphere and more efficient use of the resources we have. “So let us follow our passions,” she said. “Tiny things can solve big problems.”


Beatriz Seoane de la Cuesta

Many of us may never have heard of nanostructured porous materials, but this is about to change. “They are fantastic tools to address some of the environmental challenges our society faces nowadays. For example, they can help us to solve the problem of air pollution,” said Beatriz Seoane, postdoctoral fellow.

Seoane studied chemical engineering at the University of Zaragoza, where she graduated in 2009. That same year she embarked upon a PhD on the development of new strategies for MOF synthesis, and their application as filler in polymeric membranes for gas separation. MOFs are metal oxides and metal-organic frameworks: metal ions that together with organic molecules form a three-dimensional structure. After receiving her PhD degree cum laude in 2014, she moved to The Netherlands to work as a postdoc in the Catalysis Engineering group at TU Delft. In 2015 she was granted a Veni personal grant. Since January 2016 she has been working at Utrecht University.

Working in the field of nanoporous materials, Seoane observed and experienced a major problem still to be addressed: their processability. “Processability is key in material science. For example, polymers have been so successful in the 20th century because they can be processed into millions of different objects, among other reasons. It is very frustrating not to be able to use the full potential of nanostructured porous materials because their application is very often hampered by their lack of processability.”

Seoane is delighted to be back in Delft to perform on the TEDxDelft stage. “I feel truly honored. Giving a TEDx talk is a huge opportunity for sharing something that I love,” she said. She is a fan of TED and TEDx talks, and finds it hard to pick a favorite. “I love many of them! The last one I watched was the one given by Tim Urban about procrastination, and it not only motivated me, but I also had a lot of fun.”

Want to learn more about how nanoporous materials could help tackle climate change? Then buy your tickets now, join us on Friday 15 April and come celebrate the universal genius.