Highly porous metal–organic frameworks (MOFs), which have undergone exciting developments over the past few decades, show promise for a wide range of applications. However, many studies indicate that they suffer from significant stability issues, especially with respect to their interactions with water, which severely limits their practical potential. Here we demonstrate how the presence of ‘sacrificial’ bonds in the coordination environment of its metal centres (referred to as hemilability) endows a dehydrated copper-based MOF with good hydrolytic stability. On exposure to water, in contrast to the indiscriminate breaking of coordination bonds that typically results in structure degradation, it is non-structural weak interactions between the MOF’s copper paddlewheel clusters that are broken and the framework recovers its as-synthesized, hydrated structure. This MOF retained its structural integrity even after contact with water for one year, whereas HKUST-1, a compositionally similar material that lacks these sacrificial bonds, loses its crystallinity in less than a day under the same conditions.

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R.E.M. thanks the Royal Society and the EPSRC (grants EP/L014475/1 and EP/K025112/1) for funding work in this area, and the Czech Science Foundation for project P106/12/G015 and OP VVV ‘Excellent Research Teams’, project no. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000417 – CUCAM. S.E.A. thanks the Royal Society/Wolfson Foundation for a merit award, and the European Research Council (EU FP7 Consolidator Grant 614290 ‘EXONMR’) for funding. This research used the resources of the Advanced Light Source, which is a US DOE Office of Science User Facility under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231, and the development of the gas cell used in this research was funded through US DOE award no. DE-SC0001015. The authors thank the Diamond Light Source and C. Tang for access to beamline I11, and S. Vornholt for help with electron microscopy and the EPSRC Capital for Great Technologies funding (EP/L017008/1).

Author information


  1. EaStCHEM School of Chemistry, University of St Andrews, Purdie Building, St Andrews, UK

    • Lauren N. McHugh
    • , Matthew J. McPherson
    • , Laura J. McCormick
    • , Samuel A. Morris
    • , Paul S. Wheatley
    • , David McKay
    • , Daniel M. Dawson
    • , Charlotte E. F. Sansome
    • , Sharon E. Ashbrook
    •  & Russell E. Morris
  2. Advanced Light Source, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, USA

    • Laura J. McCormick
    •  & Simon J. Teat
  3. Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), Porton Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK

    • Corinne A. Stone
    •  & Martin W. Smith
  4. Department of Physical and Macromolecular Chemistry, Faculty of Sciences, Charles University in Prague, Hlavova , Prague, Czech Republic

    • Russell E. Morris


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L.J.M. originally synthesized the material and completed the crystallography with S.A.M. and S.J.T. The adsorption and stability experiments were designed and carried out by L.N.M., P.S.W., M.J.M., C.A.S. and M.W.S. The NMR was completed and analysed by D.M.D., C.E.F.S. and S.E.A, and D.M. carried out the computational work. The paper was written by L.N.M. and R.E.M. and revised by all authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Russell E. Morris.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Synthetic procedures for the synthesis of linker precursors and STAM-17-OEt linker; Powder diffraction; Thermogravimetric analysis; Adsorption experiments; Solid-state NMR; Crystallographic Information

  2. Crystallographic data

    CIF for hydrated STAM-17-OEt; CCDC reference: 1566114

  3. Crystallographic data

    CIF for dehydrated STAM-17-OEt; CCDC reference: 1566115

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