After reading that headline, how many of you now have a repetitive and slightly annoying computer game theme tune running through your heads? Goooood

For those of you blissfully unaware, Tetris is a videogame based on stacking various shaped blocks to complete ‘lines’ across a play area – the more lines you complete, the more points you get, so the aim is to pack the blocks together with as few holes as possible, which gets harder and harder as they fly down the screen faster and faster. It was made massively popular in the late 1980s and 1990s by a version that appeared on the Nintendo GameBoy.

But what’s that got to do with chemistry, I hear you cry?

Well, a team from the University of Liverpool has designed a material made from oddly shaped individual units, that don’t pack very efficiently. This leaves lots of holes, making the whole thing porous. Shan Jiang, the student on the project describes it as – you guessed it – molecular Tetris.

Molecular tetris (C) University of Liverpool

‘As in the computer game Tetris, these dissimilar shapes cannot pack together effectively and hence gaps, or pores, are left between them,’ says Jiang. ‘Unlike Tetris, however, bad packing is good because it generates porosity.’

Like a lot of other porous materials – metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) spring to mind – the team led by Andrew Cooper thinks that this kind of ‘frustrated packing’ could lead to good molecular filters for separating gases or filtering particulates out of air etc. But to be a winner in these applications, it has to be a pretty shoddy Tetris player, unlike this guy:

Dum, dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum, dum-de-dum, daa-daa-dum-dee-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum…..

Phillip Broadwith

Reference: S Jian et alNat. Commun., 2011, 2, Article number: 207 (DOI:10.1038/ncomms1207)

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