Caged Poems

This week I am helping colleagues from The Cooper Group at the University of Liverpool discuss the fascinating world of molecular cages, as part of the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition. As part of the exhibition, I wrote the following three poems to celebrate the diverse science that can be achieved with molecular cages, and if you come along to the exhibition you can hear them read out as part of the Hole Story! For those of you unable to make the exhibition, you can listen to them here.

Capturing Carbon

Waste carbon can be captured from the air,

With solid state materials like clay;

Yet solids cannot be used everywhere,

And so, we need to find another way.

A simple hollow cage can save the day

When dissolved in a liquid that won’t fit

Inside of the molecular cache.

These porous liquids can then help permit

A greater capture of the carbon we emit.


This is a Spenserian stanza, inspired by research conducted by Dr Rebecca Greenaway and colleagues at the University of Liverpool into the production of porous liquids for carbon capture. Porous liquids can be prepared by taking hollow cage molecules and dissolving them at high concentration in a solvent that is too large to enter the pores of the cage. These porous liquids are extremely useful for capturing carbon, as the flexibility of their liquid nature means that they can be retrofitted to existing point sources of carbon dioxide, such as fossil fuel power plants. 

Sieving for Radon

Radon is a harmful, tasteless gas

That can accumulate in homes.

So we run simulations

To find a porous cage

With a perfect fit;

And sieve the air

Until the




This is a nonet, a poem whose first line has nine syllables, with subsequent lines reducing the syllable count by one each time. It is inspired by collaborative research carried out by the group of Professor Andrew Cooper at the University of Liverpool and several other collaborators, which investigates the effect to which porous organic cages can be used to separate rare gases. Rare gases can pose either an economic opportunity or an environmental hazard, but their small size and lack of chemical reactivity mean that they are normally very difficult to remove and isolate. This research uses computer simulations to first determine which type of porous cage contains a cavity with the same shape as the spherical molecules of the required rare gas. This approach means that the rare gas can then be isolated effectively, removing it from the air and capturing it for later use. 

Cleaning the Air

Formaldehyde quickly steals pure breath in exchange for jagged wheezing and vile cancer.

With unvented fuel-burning machinery polluting the air with its invisible poison

It circulates privately through confined eddies and hidden, balmy currents.

But chemistry can trap the formaldehyde in molecular cages;

Binding it forcibly, permanently, so that it cannot seep out.

Filtering those indoor, blindly-breathed clouds

And gifting us our fresh, clean air.

Life through air.

Our air.


This is a poem that begins with a pangram, a sentence with every letter of the alphabet, and gradually reduces as the letters are slowly filtered out of the writing. It is inspired by Patent WO 2016174468 A1, which was invented by Professor Andy Cooper and Dr Ming Liu from the University of Liverpool, and which outlines a method for the stable filtration of formaldehyde using molecular cages. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that causes several respiratory problems when it builds up to large concentrations in indoor environments; for example, through the use of coal fires.

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