Omar Yaghi


Basic Sciences

The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Basic Sciences category goes, in this tenth edition, to Jordanian-American chemist Omar Yaghi, “for his pioneering work in the conception and synthesis of new crystalline materials, MOFs and COFs, of major impact in science and engineering,” with potential applications that extend to “the capture and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) and trapping water molecules in air to produce water for drinking.”


At the age of just 15, Omar M. Yaghi (Amman, Jordan, 1965) was sent by his family to study in the United States. He first fell in love with chemistry when looking at drawings of the structure of molecules: “I saw these molecular drawings at school and I was amazed, even though I didn’t know what they were. Later I learned that they were the components of things that we cannot see with our own eyes.”

After obtaining a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he began his research and teaching career as an assistant professor at Arizona State University, then moved to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor as Robert W. Parry Professor of Chemistry, and from there to the University of California, Los Angeles as Christopher S. Foote Professor of Chemistry and Irving and Jean Stone Chair Professor in Physical Science. Since 2012 he has been the James and Neeltje Tretter Chair Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, where he co-leads the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute, and the California Research Alliance by BASF.

He also heads the Center for Reticular Materials, at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science, and the Carbon Capture and Conversion Research Group at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia. From 2011 to 2016 he served as Co-Executive Director of the Molecular and Nanoarchitecture (MANAR) Research Center at the Vietnam National University. He holds 44 patents and has a further 25 patent applications published in the United States.

Today, one of his main ambitions outside research is to fire young people with the same enthusiasm, including those from less advantaged countries: “Above all I am a teacher and a mentor, and I want to see more young people engage in science and in the business of solving the world’s problems. All over the world, in the developing countries too. That is why I am helping to build research centers in these countries, to help young scholars to get into science.”