FAST MOVING FRONTS
Jaïrton Dupont talks
with ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions
about this month's Fast Moving Front in the field of
Article: On the solid, liquid and solution
structural organization of imidazolium
Journal: J BRAZIL CHEM SOC, 15 (3): 341-350 MAY-JUN
Univ Fed Rio Grande Sul, Inst Quim, Av Bento Goncalves
9500, BR-91501970 Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil.
Univ Fed Rio Grande Sul, Inst Quim, BR-91501970 Porto
Alegre, RS, Brazil.
Why do you think your paper is highly
As in most of the cases, I suppose that it is a conjunction of factors.
First it deals with ionic liquids. These compounds possess very interesting
physico-chemical properties and are highly popular not only in chemistry,
but also in physics, materials sciences, and biomedical sciences, and are
used and investigated in a plethora of subjects in both industry and
Second it provides a model that describes ionic liquids as nano-structured
materials rather than as merely homogeneous solvents. This model has proven
to be very useful and is now widely used not only to rationalize the
process occurring in these media but also to design new applications of
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
I suppose it was one of the first attempts to describe ionic liquids as
“new materials” rather than “homogeneous” solvents.
In this paper we developed the concept that “pure” imidazolium
ionic liquids should be described as polymeric hydrogen-bonded
supramolecules (highly ordered hydrogen bonded materials). In some cases
when mixed with other molecules they could be better regarded as
nanostructured materials with polar and non-polar regions rather than
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman’s terms?
We are facing huge technological challenges, either for economical or
ecological reasons, with the increasing obligation of optimizing our
synthetic methods, maximizing efficiency, and minimizing costs in the
production and use of goods. Ionic liquids possess physico-chemical
properties that may allow the design of safer and environmentally
acceptable processes (generating much less waste and using less water and
less energy). Ionic liquids are doubtless at the center of ecologically
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
At the beginning of 1990, our group had started developing projects on the
preparation and applications of ionic liquids (at that time called molten
salts) as media for organometallic catalysis (mainly as alternative media
to aqueous-phase organometallic catalysis). At that time there were only a
couple of research groups worldwide working in the use of ionic liquids for
synthetic purposes. These species were regarded as merely liquids, although
in various cases the physico-chemical properties and/or the outcome of the
processes in these liquids significantly differed from those performed in
“classical” dipolar organic solvents.
When we started to publish the supramolecular approach to describe the
structural aspects of these liquids we encountered serious resistance from
part of the ionic liquid community, but eventually this resistance was
reduced, in particular with the appearance of more and more experimental
and theoretical evidence corroborating the general idea of the
nano-structural organization of ionic liquids.
Where do you see your research leading in the
The possible applications of ionic liquids are almost endless, but I am
quite confident that these materials will have a huge impact on the
development of renewable energy sources such as bio-fuels and
hydrogen-based fuel cell technologies. Of course we will see more and more
use of these liquids as alternative “green” supports in
industrial synthetic processes.
However, the advent of these liquids has opened up unimagined opportunities
for basic science since they allow one for the first time to investigate
the interactions and behavior of molecular, biological, and macromolecular
species in solution using physical and chemical methods which require
special conditions such as high-vacuum, and which have been traditionally
limited to solid-state chemistry.
Do you foresee any social or political
implications for your research?
There is no neutral science. Even in its more basic aspects—in which
we are deeply involved in understanding the properties of these strange
liquid materials—the knowledge and especially how to use them is
always power. Eventually, the developed models will help in the design of
more efficient processes or materials that may change the way in which we
manufacture goods. Only basic research can lead to true innovations and to
possible applications for the generation of improved processes and
Professor Jaïrton Dupont
Professor of Organic Chemistry
Instituto de Química
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS)
Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil