Category Archives: Speculating

Taking MOFs out of the lab and into the kitchen

When I first learnt about Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs), not so long ago, they were introduced as programmable, designer nanomaterials conjuring up notions of white coats, specialised machinery, and clinical procedures.

What I’ve learnt from my time at CSIRO is that this is the common scene in the production of most MOFs, particularly those programmed for maximum absorption of their guest molecule; a very specific set of conditions need to be in place to produce a MOF that absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide.

However there are some MOFs that require an altogether more low-fi approach to their synthesis. In fact MOFs have recently been found in the thawing permafrost of Siberia, formed long before any research lab ever existed.

Could MOFs be formed closer to home? In the kitchen? Under what conditions?



MOFs found in nature

Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) have been found in the thawing permafrost of Siberia. The Siberian minerals in question, stepanovite and zhemchuzhnikovite, were discovered initially between the 1940s and 1960s but the technology wasn’t available to examine their nano-structure.

synthetic zhemchuzhnikovite

Lead researcher Tomislav Friščić from McGill University in Canada commented that the find, “completely changes the normal view of these highly popular materials as solely artificial, ‘designer’ solids, adding, “This raises the possibility that there might be other, more abundant, MOF minerals out there.”

Learning this news left me thinking about the various conditions enable the formation of MOFs outside of the laboratory. As we discover more MOF “out there”, which we inevitably will, we will learn more about MOF formation. Will this lead to innovations in MOF production based on biomimetic processes?

Read more about the discovery in the press release from McGill University.


Context is what I hope my artistic research and non-scientific experiments will bring to the understanding of MOFs.

Context: The weaving together (latin: contentextus) of concepts about the MOFs being used in biomedical realm, outside of what is currently being explored in scientific discourse. The word context is also a term in mycology (the study of fungi) referring to the fleshy part of a mushroom.

I hope my contribution will stimulate conversations about the prospect of human consumption of MOFs; the potential, the limits, and the ethical dimensions.

What are MOFs

MOFs… aka… Metal Organic Frameworks

They look like a powder but are super-absorbent crystals that have the world’s largest internal surface area; 1 teaspoon of the crystals have the  surface area of a football field.

Their metal organic architecture is made up of metal ions or metal ion clusters (nodes) scaffolded by organic linkers (also called ligands).


These molecular sponges are being nano-engineered for a variety of applications including:

Gas Capture – chemical weapons or industrial pollutants e.g. carbon capture

Water Harvesting – in desert environments the MOFs soak up water from the air which can be released with the warmth of the sun

Contaminant capture – water soluble MOFs which selectively capture contaminants e.g. heavy metals. microorganisms, or oils

The MOFs are programmable so that the contents of their guest filled apertures can be released, using heat or light, or by altering the pH.

Caring for Curious Ecologies: an open-ended, multispecies collaboration with Metal Organic Frameworks

Project Proposal:

This research-led artist residency considers how Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs) may soon play an integral role in being human in light of proposed biomedical applications which would see them cohabiting inside of us. The inquiry will address these potential futures by bringing MOFs and fungi together to co-exist; fungi have been chosen as they are like miniature versions of our stomachs turned inside (they ‘eat’ by releasing enzymes outside of their bodies) and luminescent MOFs will be used to make perceptible the results of these nano-scale encounters. Speculative scenarios will be produced through the cultivation of these biochemical kinships. Two strands of research are proposed.

Cultivating and Fermenting:

Members of the fungi kingdom commonly ingested by humans— yeast and edible mushrooms—will be cultivated using MOFs. Also, using ancient practices of fermentation—acts of baking, brewing, and preserving—the manifestation of these co-constituted ecologies will be revealed.

Experimenting with Lichens:

While lichens are among the oldest living things, contrasting with the newness of MOF synthesis, they have much in common. Lichens are the biological equivalent of MOFs in that they are composite organisms having properties different from those of their component organisms (which include fungi). MOFs and lichens will be brought together for this artistic experiment to see what happens and how the applications they share are affected, for example their functions as bio-indicators or carbon sinks.

These macro and micro cultures will be documented accordingly using still and moving images, under black light to discern the consequences of their union. Additional materials will be introduced to render apparent invisible aspects of the interactions such as balloons to capture the residual carbon dioxide released from these processes. Field recordings will also be gathered for use in experimental documentation.

This research will develop my ongoing artistic exploration of human, non-human, and technological entanglements. I have been using a new materialist approach to create speculative fabulations, making perceptible strange ‘intra-actions’ and challenging accepted ‘truths’ of bodily boundaries. I have wanted to work with fungi in an art project since some snuck into my installation ‘Monument for invisible labours and our ancestors the rock’ and prompted me to investigate digital fabrication with mushroom materials on my recent Future Artist-Maker Lab residency. I am a keen fermenter, baker, and brewer and have collaborated with artists, computer scientists, electronic engineers, and physicists. I welcome the opportunity to work with chemists to probe the potential of MOFs and exchange questions, methods, and motivations along the way.