Spiers Memorial Lecture: Coordination networks that switch between nonporous and porous structures: an emerging class of soft porous crystals
Coordination networks (CNs) are a class of (usually) crystalline solids typically comprised of metal ions or cluster nodes linked into 2 or 3 dimensions by organic and/or inorganic linker ligands. Whereas CNs tend to exhibit rigid structures and permanent porosity as exemplified by most metal–organic frameworks, MOFs, there exists a small but growing class of CNs that can undergo extreme, reversible structural transformation(s) when exposed to gases, vapours or liquids. These “soft” or “stimuli-responsive” CNs were introduced two decades ago and are attracting increasing attention thanks to two features: the amenability of CNs to design from first principles, thereby enabling crystal engineering of families of related CNs; and the potential utility of soft CNs for adsorptive storage and separation. A small but growing subset of soft CNs exhibit reversible phase transformations between nonporous (closed) and porous (open) structures. These “switching CNs” are distinguished by stepped sorption isotherms coincident with phase transformation and, perhaps counterintuitively, they can exhibit benchmark properties with respect to working capacity (storage) and selectivity (separation). This review addresses fundamental and applied aspects of switching CNs through surveying their sorption properties, analysing the structural transformations that enable switching, discussing structure–function relationships and presenting design principles for crystal engineering of the next generation of switching CNs.