Unveiling the Role of Nanometer-Scale Droplets in COF Synthesis: A Groundbreaking Discovery by Scientists at Ludwig Maximilian University

Unveiling the Role of Nanometer-Scale Droplets in COF Synthesis

How Nanometer-Scale Droplets Shape the Synthesis of COFs

Covalent organic frameworks (COFs) are remarkable materials that have captured the attention of scientists worldwide for their potential in energy storage, conversion, and manufacturing. Despite their promise, the synthesis of COFs has been a challenge, often relying on trial and error due to a lack of understanding of the underlying processes.

Researchers at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich, Germany, have recently made a groundbreaking discovery that sheds light on the intricate formation of COFs. Using a specialized microscopy technique, they have witnessed the emergence of minuscule droplets that play a crucial role in the synthesis of these molecular frameworks.

Nanodroplets: The Unsung Heroes of COF Formation

The LMU team employed a technique called interferometric scattering (iSCAT) microscopy, typically used to study protein interactions. This method allowed them to observe the synthesis of COFs at the nanoscale, revealing the presence of unexpected droplets.

“The images showed us that nanometer-scale droplets can play an essential role in the synthesis,” explains Christoph Gruber, lead researcher on the project. “Although extremely small, they control the entire kinetics at the beginning of the reaction.”

These droplets, previously unknown, turned out to be critical for the formation of COFs. Their absence resulted in a rapid reaction and loss of the desired order in the molecular framework.

Capturing the Birth of COFs on Film

The team’s iSCAT microscopy allowed them to capture a real-time film of the formation of COFs. This unprecedented view revealed the dynamics of the process, starting with the emergence of nanodroplets and ending with the formation of the molecular framework.

“Existing techniques couldn’t capture the start of the reaction, with these nano-scale and millisecond-long processes, in real time,” says Professor Emiliano Cortés, head of the research group. “Through our research, we’ve now managed to close this gap in our knowledge.”

From Discovery to Energy-Efficient Synthesis

Armed with their newfound understanding of COF formation, the LMU researchers set out to optimize the synthesis process. Using the insights gained from their film analysis, they developed a more energy-efficient synthesis concept.

“By adding normal table salt, for example, we were able to massively reduce the temperature, such that the molecular frameworks form at room temperature as opposed to 120 degrees Celsius,” says Professor Dana Medina, an expert in COF synthesis.

A New Chapter in Material Synthesis

The LMU team’s findings have far-reaching implications for the synthesis of other materials and chemical reactions. Their ability to observe these reactions in real time opens up new possibilities for understanding and controlling molecular processes.

“We are excited about shooting new films with molecules in the starring role,” says Gruber. “This is just the beginning of our journey to unravel the secrets of material synthesis and push the boundaries of what is possible.”


The discovery of the role of nanometer-scale droplets in the formation of COFs is a testament to the power of scientific exploration. By capturing the birth of these promising materials on film, the LMU researchers have paved the way for more efficient and precise synthesis methods. As we delve deeper into the realm of nanoscale processes, we unlock the potential for innovative materials and technologies that will shape the future of energy and beyond.

By Divya

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