Omar M. Yaghi

James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry, UC Berkeley
PhD, University of Illinois-Urbana; NSF Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University


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Omar M. Yaghi received his B.S. from State University of New York at Albany (1985) and Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1990). He was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University (1990-92). He started his independent career as an assistant professor in 1992 at Arizona State University, moved to University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as Robert W. Parry Professor of Chemistry in 1999, and then UCLA in 2006 as Christopher S. Foote Professor of Chemistry and Irving and Jean Stone Chair Professor in Physical Sciences. Since 2012 he has been the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry at University of California, Berkeley, and a Senior Faculty Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He is the Founding Director of the Berkeley Global Science Institute, and the Co-Director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute, and the California Research Alliance by BASF.

His work encompasses the synthesis, structure and properties of inorganic and organic compounds and the design and construction of new crystalline materials. He is widely known for the discovery and for pioneering the development of several extensive classes of new materials: Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs), Covalent Organic Frameworks (COFs), and Zeolitic Imidazolate Frameworks (ZIFs). These materials have the highest surface areas known to date, making them useful in many applications including the (1) storage and separation of hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide, (2) conversion of carbon dioxide to fuels and high value chemicals, (3) capture of water from air for fresh water production (4) highly selective cleavage of peptides using enzyme-inspired catalysis, and (5) storage of ions in supercapacitor devices, and transport of protons and electrons in conductive frameworks. The building block approach he developed has led to an exponential growth in the creation of new materials having a diversity and multiplicity previously unknown in chemistry. He termed this field 'Reticular Chemistry' and defines it as 'stitching molecular building blocks into extended structures by strong bonds'. This chemistry is now being practiced using methods developed by Yaghi since 1995 in hundreds of laboratories in academia and industry worldwide.

His early accomplishments in the design and synthesis of new materials were honored by the Solid-State Chemistry Award of the American Chemical Society and Exxon Co. (1998) and the Sacconi Medal of the Italian Chemical Society (2004). His work on hydrogen storage was recognized by Popular Science magazine, which listed him among the 'Brilliant 10' scientists and engineers in the United States (2006), and the US Department of Energy Hydrogen Program Award for outstanding contributions to hydrogen storage (2007). He was the sole recipient of the Materials Research Society Medal for pioneering work in the theory, design, synthesis and applications of metal-organic frameworks and the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize for the best paper published in Science (2007). He is also the recipient of the American Chemical Society Chemistry of Materials Award for pioneering methods for the design and synthesis of metal-organic frameworks of exceptional porosity and industrial applications (2009), Izatt-Christensen International Award (2009), United Kingdom's Royal Society of Chemistry Centenary Prize (2010), China Nano Award (2013), King Faisal International Prize in Science for seminal contributions to metal-organic frameworks (2015), Mustafa Prize in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology for extensive research in the field of MOFs and clean energy (2015), Turkish Academy of Sciences Prize in Basic and Engineering Sciences for establishing Reticular Chemistry (2016), Royal Society of Chemistry Spiers Memorial Award for pioneering the conceptual and experimental basis of crystalline metal-organic frameworks and covalent organic frameworks (2017), the King Abdullah II Order of Distinction of the First Class - the highest civilian honor bestowed by the King of Jordan (2017), and the Albert Einstein World Award of Science conferred by the World Cultural Council for his ground-breaking scientific contributions in the development of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs), and for establishing a new field of chemistry – Reticular Chemistry (2017). Yaghi was also awarded the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences from Spain, and the Wolf Prize in Chemistry for pioneering reticular chemistry via metal-organic frameworks and covalent organic frameworks (2018). Additionally, Yaghi received the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water (2018) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the Eni Award for excellence in energy from Italy (2018), the Gregori Aminoff Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (2019), the MBR Medal for Scientific Excellence - the highest national scientific honor of the United Arab Emirates (2019), the Nano Research Award by Springer Nature (2019), as well as being elected to the US National Academy of Sciences (2019). He published over 280 articles, which have received an average of over 300 citations per paper. He is listed among the top five most highly cited chemists worldwide.



The logical synthesis of materials with extended structures has been a long-standing objective in chemistry and materials science. The fundamental problem is that linking molecular building units into extended structures invariably led to amorphous or poorly crystalline solids, leading scientists to conclude that such materials defy ‘logical’ synthesis. In 1995, Yaghi turned this ‘dream’ into reality by making metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and subsequently establishing their permanent porosity through gas adsorption experiments (Nature 1995, 378, 703; J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1998, 120, 8571; Nature 1999, 402, 276). The major conceptual advance came when he showed that metal-oxide clusters could be used as anchors for joining organic linkers into robust crystalline open frameworks (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1998, 120, 8571; Nature 1999, 402, 276; Acc. Chem. Res.200134, 319). He then generalized this concept by using other clusters, from the almost forgotten arsenal of poly-nuclear acetates of metals, and the vast number of organic linkers to build an extensive class of porous framework materials (Nature 2003, 423, 705). His key insight was that the clusters’ rigidity should impart directionality and thus be crucial in building structures by design. Yaghi fruitfully applied this to make for the first time materials with controlled porosity, pore-functionality and metrics (Science 2002, 295, 469). To facilitate new MOF research worldwide, Yaghi, O'Keeffe, and co-workers developed a system of topology and an interactive database for the prediction of structures expected to result from linking variously shaped clusters and organic units (Acc. Chem. Res. 2005, 38, 176). On a fundamental level, Yaghi has successfully combined organic and inorganic chemistry to stitch molecules together by strong bonds and make robust materials, and thereby has created a new field of chemistry (termed reticular chemistry). This materials synthesis approach not only serves as the basis for the design of MOFs, but also led him to the discovery and development of covalent organic frameworks (COFs) (Science 2005, 310, 1166; Science 2007, 316, 268) and porous zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs) (Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 2006, 103, 10186; Science 2008, 319, 939; Nature 2008, 453, 207); thus making this field one of the fastest growing in science.

Yaghi has used these reticular materials to trap voluminous amounts of carbon dioxide (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1998, 120, 8571; J. Am. Chem. Soc.2005127, 1799), which opened wide the field of carbon capture. He also showed how the interior of MOFs could be covalently functionalized with primary amines to make materials that can selectively trap carbon dioxide in the presence of water (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014136, 8863). This is the first demonstration of how carbon dioxide can be captured from the atmosphere and flue gas of power plants. Yaghi established the benchmark for carbon dioxide storage and separation research, and this has shaped the vast number of studies being done on carbon capture since. Building on his early discoveries, Yaghi and co-workers reported that multiple functionalities could be incorporated into reticular structures (MOFs/COFs/ZIFs) (Science 2010, 327, 846; Science 2013, 341, 882). These functionalities organize in sequences as nucleotides do in DNA or amino acids in proteins to perform better than the sum of the parts in the selective capture of carbon dioxide and its conversion. In addition, he showed for the first time that open metal sites within frameworks can be created and characterized, and this has proven useful in binding substrates for catalysis and the storage of hydrogen (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2000122, 11559). The ability of MOFs to seek out specific molecules and store them into the pores was also applied by Yaghi to tackle another long-standing challenge: harvesting water from dry air. In recent ground-breaking reports, he showed that MOFs can be designed and their interior crafted to take up water from low-humidity (10-30% R.H.) and concentrate it into their pores (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 4369). He further showed that a device based on these MOFs can be designed to harvest water from air in desert climates with no energy input aside from that of ambient sunlight (Science 2017, 356, 430).

His discovery and development of crystalline covalent organic frameworks, in which organic units are linked by strong bonds to make low density materials, has given access to a large number of covalent organic crystals. These combine porosity with being lightweight and having robust thermal and chemical properties, making them useful for water desalination and as catalysts for conversion of carbon dioxide to fuels. He recently showed how molecular catalysts could be reticulated into COFs to give the highest activity for electrolytic conversion of carbon dioxide to high value feedstock chemicals (Science 2015, 349, 1208). He also demonstrated how molecular weaving could be accomplished in chemistry (Science 2016, 351, 365): Organic threads interlaced to make covalently linked woven ‘molecular fabrics’. As in his other materials, this is also a first in the history of science. The potential of these molecular woven materials lies in their ability to combine rich chemical information, mechanical flexibility, and resiliency into one material.

Yaghi has successfully taken the field of reticular chemistry all the way from discovery to applications, and changed the way scientists think about making and using new materials. This field is being widely studied by chemists, physicists, materials scientists and engineers in hundreds of laboratories in academia and industry worldwide.


Learn more about Professor Yaghi in recent interviews:

  • Omar Yaghi's global journey: From the abstract to the practical
  • Forbes Middle East: The Alchemist
  • UCLA Newsroom: Chemistry Professor Omar Yaghi, In His Own Words
  • RSC Publishing, Chemical Technlogy: The Beauty of Molecules
  • Chemist's Pursuit of Molecular Beauty May Yield Energy Breakthroughs
  • Reactions - Omar Yaghi
  • UCLA Undergrad. Science Journal: Pioneering the Field of Reticular Chemistry