Researchers have finally proven that boron cage structures similar to the nanotechnology standby, the carbon buckyball, do exist. This is the first time this kind of structure has been seen, not just speculated about.
The team has been working with boron for years, seeking stable structures that would work similarly to carbon on the nanoscale. Boron, carbon's neighbor in the periodic table, was a natural choice for researchers. The Brown University team showed earlier this year that boron disks that are one atom thick can perform very similarly to graphene, another carbon nanotechnology staple. The team called the substance formed by these disks “borophene.”
Taking a comparative look at traditional carbon buckyballs and the new borospherenes, the primary difference is in how many atoms are involved in the construction of each. Buckyballs are made up of 60 carbon atoms in pentagons and hexagons that together form a hollow ball of a cage. Borospherenes, however, are constructed of only 40 boron atoms made up of triangles and rings. The resulting boron cage isn't as round and smooth at the classic buckyball but it is nevertheless stable.
Borospherenes may be very useful for applications that demand hydrogen bonds. This is because boron's particular electron deficiency makes it readily form bonds with hydrogen. The boron cages could be used to contain and protect the very tiny hydrogen atoms for various uses, although the Brown University team is not yet specifying uses for the borospherenes.