ANU is set to host a new virtual library of beautiful intricate patterns, which are unlocking secrets of chemical structures and triggering a revolution in new technology.
The intricate regular patterns are generated mathematically, but have been found to match with real structures such as butterfly wings or mineral structures, and have been used to predict chemical lattices with never-before seen properties.
“We’re interested in pretty patterns, and we know that they inevitably will be important in real systems,” said co-founder of the library, Professor Stephen Hyde.
“They can be atoms forming crystals, metal organic frameworks, that are revolutionising chemistry, or the structures that give butterfly wings their beautiful colours.”
The new library, known as NetCentre, brings research into network structures from ANU, Berkeley, Arizona State University and Technical University of Berlin together into the one world-wide information centre. It will incorporate the libraries Epinet and RCSR, and will be overseen by ANU and jointly managed by all partners.
“The NetCentre will ensure the continuity of this important resource, so it is responsibly curated and added to sensibly,” Professor Hyde said.
“We hope it will seed more long-term links in research and education, for example allowing chemistry students in Berkeley and Phoenix to liaise directly with physicists and mathematicians in Canberra and Berlin,” Professor Hyde says.
Beyond their beauty, the mathematical patterns are in high demand for chemists and material scientists, as models for new materials, minerals or chemical structures.
“Our collaborators working in this area are some of the most highly-cited chemists in the world, because these structures are so important to new materials,” Professor Hyde said.
“Despite the importance of structural networks in the materials sciences, fundamental studies of these patterns have only begun in the past decade or so.
“It’s amazing how little they have been explored,” he said.
Professor Hyde says the structures from NetCentre could inspire myriad materials – crystalline sponges that allow slow release of chemicals or drugs, storage for gases, such as fuel or carbon dioxide, or minerals such as zeolites which are used in chemical processing.
But foremost, he is fascinated by the beauty of the structures.
“It’s mathematical beauty reflected in physical beauty. It’s wild shit,” Professor Hyde says.
The challenge for scientists working in this area has been finding ways to model three-dimensional structures, because the number of possible structures is huge. Professor Hyde, along with ANU colleagues Dr Vanessa Robins and Dr Stuart Ramsden took one approach to this problem which resulted in the Epinet library of structures.
The structures in Epinet are created by cutting down the enormous number of 3D options into a more manageable subset by collapsing 3D structures onto a two-dimensional space – similar to looking at shadows of a three-dimensional structure on a flat wall.
“Instead of using a flat wall, we project the images onto a crinkly surface that wraps around on itself, known as hyperbolic space,” Professor Hyde said.
“It still has an extraordinary number of symmetric tilings, but this way we can use two-dimensional tools to analyse it, which is a lot easier.”
The Epinet library is growing each year, as ANU and Technical University of Berlin jointly explore new developments in hyperbolic tiling.
The NetCentre will combining experimental structures with theoretical ones by cross-linking Epinet with a partner library, the Reticular Chemistry Structural Resource, which is currently curated at ANU with Arizona and Berkeley. A suite of complementary software (GAVROG) tools, developed by Olaf Delgado-Friedrichs (ANU) will also be hosted by the NetCentre.
Professor Stephen Hyde