Recycling water is one way to unlock more freshwater – but what if we could just absorb water out of the air? That’s the goal of a new water extraction device developed with the help of Laura Gagliardi, Richard and Kathy Leventhal Professor of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering.
A theoretical chemist at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, Gagliardi is an expert in modeling chemical phenomena with complex computer simulations. For many years, she has worked with collaborators around the world to study metal-organic frameworks or MOFs – materials whose molecular structure gives them a porous internal surface area. That internal surface that can be functionalized to absorb high amounts of gas, or, in this case, collect water from the air.
“They are essentially sponges,” Gagliardi said. “But we needed to understand exactly how they work at the atomic level to make such a device work even better.”
That’s where she and her team found opportunity, using theoretical and computational methods to understand how water molecules attach inside the MOFs. The goal is to use the device in dry areas, such as a desert, where water is scarce, but Gagliardi envisions an even broader use.