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Materials scientists find stable, spherical form for boron
A new study by Rice University scientists predicts
the existence and stability of another "buckyball" consisting entirely of
The research, which has been published online and is due to appear as an
editor's selection in Physical Review Letters, was conducted bv Boris
Yakobson, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of
chemistry, and his associates Nevill Gonzalez Szwacki and Arta Sadrzadeh.
The original buckyball, a cage-shaped molecule of 60 carbon atoms, was
discovered at Rice by Robert Curl, Harold Kroto and Richard Smalley in 1985.
The boron buckyball is structurally similar to the original C60 fullerene,
but it has an additional atom in the center of each hexagon, which
significantly increases stability.
"This is the first prediction of its possible existence," Yakobson said of
the boron buckyball, or B80. "This has not been observed or even conceived
of before. We do hope it may lead to a significant breakthrough."
In the earliest stages of their work, the team attempted to build a
"buckyball" using silicon atoms but determined that it would collapse on
itself. Their search for another possible atom led them on a short trip
across the periodic table.
"Boron is nearby (one atomic unit from carbon). One reason we tried it was
because of proximity," Yakobson said. "Boron also has the ability to
catenate, to stick together better, than other atoms, which also made it
Initial work with 60 boron atoms failed to create a hollow ball that would
hold its form, so another boron atom was placed into the center of each
hexagon for added stability.
Yakobson estimated that the scientific work, the consideration of the
variety of boron clusters to single out the B80, took more than a year, with
Szwacki initially leading the work and then Sadrzadeh gradually taking
greater part in the effort.
"We thought we had the answer, essentially, after three or four months, but
then we had to prove it," Yakobson said. "There are numerous possibilities,
but we had to prove that this was the answer. I think we've made a
Yakobson said it is too early to speculate whether the boron buckyball will
prove to be equally or more useful than its Nobel Prize-winning sibling.
"It's too early to make comparisons," he said. "All we know is that it's a
very logical, very stable structure likely to exist.
"But this opens up a whole new direction, a whole new continent to explore.
There should be a strong effort to find it experimentally. That may not be
an easy path, but we gave them a good road map."
Following the paper's acceptance, there was a little debate with the
journal's editors about whether or not the structure could be named
"buckyball." Yakobson mentioned this to Curl.
"Bob (Curl) said with a chuckle that it was more of a ‘buckyball' than his
buckyball," Yakobson said. The reason being that C60 was named for famed
architect Buckminster Fuller, because the buckyball looked like conjoined
geodesic domes, a structure that Fuller had invented.
"When Fuller made his domes, he made them from triangles because hexagons
would collapse," Yakobson said. "In B80, we fill the hexagon with one more
atom, making triangles."
Yakobson said having the paper published in Physical Review Letters will
help get the attention of experimentalists in the field.
"It is very helpful that this work can be seen and this is just a good
instrument for it," he said. "To be able to deliver it to this broad a base
of physicists and chemists is a good start."
The research was supported by the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the Office of
Naval Research and the Department of Defense.
About Rice University
Rice is a private, independent university dedicated to the "advancement of letters, science, and art." Occupying a distinctive, tree-shaded, nearly 300-acre campus only a few miles from downtown Houston, Rice attracts a diverse group of highly talented students with a range of academic studies that includes humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, architecture, music, and business management (graduate study only). The school offers students the advantage of forging close relationships with members of the faculty and the option of tailoring graduate and undergraduate studies to their specific interests. Students each year are drawn to this coed, nonsectarian university by the creative approaches it historically has taken to higher education.
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