Imaging defects and their evolution in a metal-organic framework at sub-unit-cell resolution.


KAUST, Core Labs, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. [Email]


Defect engineering of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) offers promising opportunities for tailoring their properties to specific functions and applications. However, determining the structures of defects in MOFs-either point defects or extended ones-has proved challenging owing to the difficulty of directly probing local structures in these typically fragile crystals. Here we report the real-space observation, with sub-unit-cell resolution, of structural defects in the catalytic MOF UiO-66 using a combination of low-dose transmission electron microscopy and electron crystallography. Ordered 'missing linker' and 'missing cluster' defects were found to coexist. The missing-linker defects, reconstructed three-dimensionally with high precision, were attributed to terminating formate groups. The crystallization of the MOF was found to undergo an Ostwald ripening process, during which the defects also evolve: on prolonged crystallization, only the missing-linker defects remained. These observations were rationalized through density functional theory calculations. Finally, the missing-cluster defects were shown to be more catalytically active than their missing-linker counterparts for the isomerization of glucose to fructose.