Dr Thomas Bennett
Winner: 2020 Harrison-Meldola Memorial Prize
University of Cambridge
For contributions to the non-crystalline metal–organic framework domain, including synthesis and characterization of the first liquid and glass MOF states.
Celebrate Dr Thomas Bennett
Metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) are porous, networked solids consisting of both inorganic and organic components. The crystalline state dominates the field, though the research of Dr Bennett and his colleagues has shown they are also liquid and glass-forming compounds – the first new family found since metallic glasses in the 1970s.
He uses advanced characterisation techniques to probe the structure of these disordered materials, and relate these atomistic arrangements to novel mechanical, porous, optical and thermoelectric properties for uses in clean energy, environmental remediation and communication technologies. In particular, Dr Bennett and his team strive to provide materials which are not only hybrid inorganic-organics in terms of their chemical properties, but also in terms of their physical properties.Read full biography
Dr Thomas (Tom) Bennett was born in South Shields, Tyne and Wear in 1986. He obtained both BA and MSci degrees from the University of Cambridge in 2008, before completing a PhD with Sir Anthony Cheetham FRS in the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy in 2012. He was awarded the inaugural PanAlytical prize in the same year and completed a short EPSRC Doctoral Prize post-doctoral fellowship before spending a year as a chemistry teacher in secondary education.
In 2013 he was endowed with a Research Fellowship at the University of Cambridge, and in 2016 commenced an independent academic career with a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. Dr Bennett has held visiting scientist positions at CSIRO Melbourne (Australia) and Wuhan University of Technology (China). He has also completed a JSPS Fellowship at the University of Kyoto (2017), and a three-month Teaching Fellowship at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand (2019).
His research focuses on the intersection of defects, disorder and flexibility within hybrid materials. This includes the non-crystalline metal–organic framework (MOF) domain, and specifically the synthesis and characterisation of the liquid and glass states of MOFs. He has previously been awarded the ISIS Science Case Impact Award (2018), the Woldemar A. Weyl award for glass science (2019), and the Philip Leverhulme Prize (2019).
Dr Bennett is the current chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry Porous Materials Interest Group, and vice-chair of the International Zeolite Association Commission on Metal–Organic Frameworks.
Who or what has inspired you?
I am extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with tons of brilliant people in a number of different areas of science ranging from crystallography to computational chemistry, physics, engineering and glass processing. I always try (and rarely, rarely succeed!) to take something from every interaction in my career.
I’d highlight Prof. Andrew Goodwin (Oxford) and Prof. David Keen (Rutherford Appleton Laboratory) as particular scientific inspirations, while others such as Prof. Russell Morris at St Andrews and Prof. Ross Forgan at Glasgow have been fantastic career mentors. My PhD supervisor Prof. Tony Cheetham inspired me to strive to provide the best opportunities for my students and researchers, and to have confidence in my own judgement in following the science.
What motivates you?
The fantastic undergraduate, PhD and Post-Doctoral colleagues with whom I work. I feel a great sense of responsibility towards them and the desire not only to work with them, but also to learn from them, drives me on a daily basis.
What has been your biggest challenge?
As with most Early Career Researchers, I think the lack of permanency is always at the back of your mind. This is even more acute at the present time. I have been on the last chance (or what I regarded at the time as my last chance) to obtain a position two times in my life. Once was in 2013, when I was on my last interview for a Research Fellowship, and once was in May 2016 when I was waiting to find out whether I had been fortunate enough to be awarded Royal Society University Research Fellowship. I am incredibly grateful to the Royal Society for this fantastic opportunity, which provides some space to think about, and to plan, my long-term research.
What has been a highlight for you?
Research stays at the University of Kyoto and University of Canterbury New Zealand were both incredible opportunities – from the extremely warm welcome, to discussing interdisciplinary science, to learning about different cultures and experiencing life from a new perspective. The latter has been through an extensive period of rebuilding after a major earthquake in 2011, which demanded so much from the students and staff. Only a few weeks later, classes were already taking place again, and now it is amazing to see the new teaching and research buildings that now compliment the brilliant, determined and friendly faculty there. I felt like a real part of the community, despite a relatively short stay. They even got me a cake on my birthday!
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
Whatever you do, try and make sure you will be happy doing it. If chemistry makes you happy, then there are loads of opportunities in different chemical sectors – academic and industrial, for you to explore.
Why do you think international collaboration is important in science?
It gives perspective, and I think that the best science always arises from broader perspectives.