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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 Materials Science.
Dupont Article: On the solid, liquid and solution structural organization of imidazolium ionic liquids
Author: Dupont, J
Journal: J BRAZIL CHEM SOC, 15 (3): 341-350 MAY-JUN 2004
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 cited?

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 academia.

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 these materials.

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 homogeneous solvents.

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 sound chemistry.

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 future?

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 products.

Professor Jaïrton Dupont
Professor of Organic Chemistry
Instituto de Química
Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS)
Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil



2008 : March 2008 - Fast Moving Fronts : Jaïrton Dupont
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