New Boron-Based Buckyballs Created

boron, buckyball, nanotechnology, chemistry, Since their discovery 30 years ago, buckyballs have been a staple of the nanotechnology and engineering scene. While buckyballs have allowed for a massive expansion of nanotechnology applications their downfall has been the lack of variety in complex, elemental structures with similar properties. However, in a recent announcement from Brown University buckyballs look to finally have some company thanks to their elemental neighbor boron.

Called Borospherene, the new complex lattice of Boron atoms was developed by researchers from Brown and Shanxi University. Consisting of a cluster of 40 boron atoms manipulated to form an elemental cage, the first borospherene structure is a real world representation of what was once only theory.

 “This is the first time that a boron cage has been observed experimentally,” said Lai-Sheng Wang, a professor of chemistry at Brown. “As a chemist, finding new molecules and structures is always exciting. The fact that boron has the capacity to form this kind of structure is very interesting.”

To create their new superstructure Wang’s team first turned to the help of supercomputers. Crunching over 10,000 configurations of a 40-atom structure the team was able to estimate how each arrangement would bond together as well as their shape and the binding energies spectrums produced by each model.

With a rubric of binding energies in place the team began lab experiments to determine whether a manufactured borospherene model would match any of the binding energies spectra produced through computer simulation.

After stimulating bulk boron with a laser to expel an elemental vapor and freezing it with a jet of helium the team found two configurations of boron atoms with matching binding energy spectra.  While one model was a semi-flat molecule, the other was much closer to a buckyball-like cage. Built from 48 triangles, four seven-sided rings and two six-membered rings the borospherene is the closest any other molecule has come to replicating the shape of a buckyball.

Even though borospherene’s structure can’t match the smoothness of a spherical carbon-based buckyball, its creation is still intriguing and points to the possibility of an expanding list of elemental, nanotech building blocks.

Though it will be some time before anyone is able to determine whether or not borospherene will be as useful as its carbon counterparts, Wang is excited about the potential in his team’s discovery. “For us, just to be the first to have observed this, that’s a pretty big deal,” said Wang. “Of course if it turns out to be useful that would be great, but we don’t know yet. Hopefully this initial finding will stimulate further interest in boron clusters and new ideas to synthesize them in bulk quantities.”

Image Courtesy of Brown University