A Siberian mine has revealed a big surprise: a rare mineral that is the naturally occurring version of a man-made material called a metal-organic framework, or MOF. The man-made material was revealed in the 90s and has many potential uses, including things like sequestering carbon, and is now known to exist in nature. The discovery, which was recently detailed in the journal Science Advances, has been more than half a decade in the making, and raises hope that other varieties of MOF minerals may be discovered in the future.
One of the primary feature of MOFs is that they are porous and therefore able to act as very tiny sponges of sort for storing things like hydrogen. It is that structure that first hinted at the minerals’ MOF nature. These minerals, called zhemchuzhnikovite and stepanovite, were discovered in Russia over a couple decade period from about 1940 to 1960. Though science didn’t yet know too much about the minerals, detailed notes taken by Russian mineralogists indicated they were similar to MOFs.
This led down a long multi-year path in which the researchers tried to acquire samples of the minerals, then, after striking out, proceeded to make their own synthetic versions. Though that creation process was ultimately successful, it also led to a roadblock when the team tried to publish their findings. The researchers went back on the hunt for actual samples of the minerals, and eventually got them.
Finally, the researchers were able to confirm the results they initially got with their synthetic variety of minerals — that the minerals have the same structure as man-made MOFs. Now that such a reality has been confirmed, scientists can begin hunting for other samples of naturally occurring MOFs, different varieties of which can serve differing purposes.