A buckyball is a cage-like fused-ring structure similar to a soccer ball formed by carbon atoms, but now it has been proven that boron atoms can form a similar structure.
Researchers from Brown University in collaboration with Shanxi University and Tsinghua University in China have observed a cluster of 40 boron atoms forming a hollow molecular cage similar to a carbon buckyball. This is the first evidence that a cage structure of this atomic composition, which up until now was only a matter of speculation, actually exists.
"This is the first time that a boron cage has been observed experimentally," said Lai-Sheng Wang, a professor of chemistry at Brown who led the research. "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." In the science journal Nature Chemistry, Wang and his colleagues describe the molecule- which they've dubbed borospherene.
Carbon buckyballs are made of 60 carbon atoms arranged in pentagons and hexagons to form a sphere, and their discovery in 1985 was followed by discoveries of other hollow carbon structures- including carbon nanotubes and graphene. Scientists were curious if other elements were capable of forming similar structures, and thus Wang's team began experimenting.
Using a computer, Wang's colleagues modeled over 10,000 possible arrangements of Boron bonded together, estimating not only their shape but electron bonding as well. After that, the team had to test the binding energy using photoelectron spectroscopy to see if they matched any of the theoretical structures. From there, the experiments showed that 40-atom-clusters form two structures with distinct binding spectra- one structure turning out to be a buckyball-like spherical cage.
"For us, just to be the first to have observed this, that's a pretty big deal," Wang said. "Hopefully this initial finding will stimulate further interest in boron clusters and new ideas to synthesize them in bulk quantities." It is too soon to anticipate the potential uses of borospherene, but Wang believes one possibility would be hydrogen storage- since borospherene would likely bond well with hydrogen.
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