All about boron Science

Boring down on boron

Boron isn't found freely in nature, though it is found in common compounds. It took hundreds of years to isolate pure boron.   | Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The element with the atomic number five, boron is a complicated element. A metalloid by nature, boron exhibits the properties of both metallic and nonmetallic substances. While borax, a compound of boron, has been known to human beings and used for over a thousand years, the isolation of the element took us a lot of time.

First steps...

The first significant progress in the process of isolation happened only in the 19th century. And when it did, it happened within days of each other. Fuelled by their rivalry, Frenchman Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and Englishman Humphry Davy were trying to outdo each other. Lucky for us, both of them were interested in chemistry.

Gay-Lussac, working along with Louis Jacques Thenard at the Ecole Polytechnique, decomposed boric acid by using fused potassium to obtain boron, a grey solid. They believed that the obtained boron shared characteristics with sulphur and phosphorous and made their announcement on June 21, 1808.

Nine days later, Davy independently arrived at a similar result. Having first produced boron by electrolysis of boric acid, Davy decided to approach the problem differently as he wasn’t satisfied with the result. He enjoyed greater success, producing a powdery substance, when he tried reacting boric acid with potassium in a hydrogen atmosphere.

Both Gay-Lussac and Davy, however, weren’t actually successful in isolating boron. The samples that they had been able to prepare were, in fact, only about 60 per cent pure boron. Over hundred years passed before the pure form of boron was obtained.

Pure boron

American chemist Ezekiel Weintraub produced boron that was 99 per cent pure in 1909. This, he did by using boron halides and reducing them with the help of hydrogen.

It was in 2004 that the next big boron news came about, when Jiuhua Chen and Vladimir L. Solozhenko produced a new form of boron. It took another five years to show that this new form of boron, which is more heat-resistant and almost as hard as diamond, contains two structures.

Multipurpose

As part of borax, boron is a household item that is included in detergents. As a multipurpose element, it finds itself as a crucial nutrient for plants, a vital component in the nuclear industry and could also find its way to the tech world through boron buckyballs discovered only in 2014. It is also a chief ingredient of oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid, whose viscosity would depend on the sheer force applied to it. And some believe that boron could have also been key to the evolution of life on earth!


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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 10:28:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/sh-science/Boring-down-on-boron/article14431878.ece

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