|Group||13||Melting point||2077 oC, 3771 oF, 2350 K|
|Period||2||Boiling point||4000 oC, 7232 oF, 4273 K|
|Block||p||Density (g cm-3)||2.34|
|Atomic number||5||Relative atomic mass||10.81|
|State at 20°C||Solid||Key isotopes||11B|
|Electron configuration||[He] 2s22p1||CAS number||7440-42-8|
|ChemSpider ID||4575371||ChemSpider is a free chemical structure database|
An image reflecting the importance of boron as an essential mineral for plants. The tree and its strange metallic foliage ‘grow’ from a ‘pure’ dark powdered cone of the element.
Pure boron is a dark amorphous powder.
Amorphous boron is used as a rocket fuel igniter and in pyrotechnic flares. It gives the flares a distinctive green colour.
The most important compounds of boron are boric (or boracic) acid, borax (sodium borate) and boric oxide. These can be found in eye drops, mild antiseptics, washing powders and tile glazes. Borax used to be used to make bleach and as a food preservative.
Boric oxide is also commonly used in the manufacture of borosilicate glass (Pyrex). It makes the glass tough and heat resistant. Fibreglass textiles and insulation are made from borosilcate glass.
Sodium octaborate is a flame retardant.
The isotope boron-10 is good at absorbing neutrons. This means it can be used to regulate nuclear reactors. It also has a role in instruments used to detect neutrons.
Boron is essential for the cell walls of plants. It is not considered poisonous to animals, but in higher doses it can upset the body’s metabolism. We take in about 2 milligrams of boron each day from our food, and about 60 grams in a lifetime. Some boron compounds are being studied as a possible treatment for brain tumours.
Boron occurs as an orthoboric acid in some volcanic spring waters, and as borates in the minerals borax and colemanite. Extensive borax deposits are found in Turkey. However, by far the most important source of boron is rasorite. This is found in the Mojave Desert in California, USA.
High-purity boron is prepared by reducing boron trichloride or tribromide with hydrogen, on electrically heated filaments. Impure, or amorphous, boron can be prepared by heating the trioxide with magnesium powder.
For centuries the only source of borax, Na2B2O5(OH)4, was the crystallized deposits of Lake Yamdok Cho, in Tibet. It was used as a flux used by goldsmiths.
In 1808, Louis-Josef Gay-Lussac and Louis-Jacques Thénard working in Paris, and Sir Humphry Davy in London, independently extracted boron by heating borax with potassium metal. In fact, neither had produced the pure element which is almost impossible to obtain. A purer type of boron was isolated in 1892 by Henri Moissan. Eventually, E. Weintraub in the USA produced totally pure boron by sparking a mixture of boron chloride, BCl3 vapour, and hydrogen. The material so obtained boron was found to have very different properties to those previously reported.
|Listen to Boron Podcast|
Chemistry in Its Element - Boron
You're listening to Chemistry in its element brought to you by Chemistry World, the magazine of the Royal Society of Chemistry
This week we see the true nature of an element wrongly accused of being boring. I'm Meera Senthilingam from the Naked Scientists.com, and to see how a supposed dreary element can indulge in swinging antics and numerous adventures here's Pat Bailey with the brighter side of Boron.
If I had to choose a person to represent gold, then I guess it might be an ambitious young stockbroker, a bit flashy, and not great at forming relationships. For helium - an airy-fairy blonde with a bit of a squeaky voice, but with aspirations to join the nobility.
And for boron? Well at first glance, during the working week at any rate, a boring, middle-aged accountant, maybe wearing brown corduroys and a tweed jacket . but with an unexpected side-to him in his spare time - skydiving, motorbiking, and a member of a highly dubious society that indulges in swapping partners.
Let's start with the boring bit. Boron is usually isolated as a brown, amorphous solid. I don't know anyone who thinks the element boron has anything interesting about it. But its unexpected side starts to emerge when you look at some simple compounds of boron. Consider the nitride, for example - just the 2 elements at numbers 5 and 7 in the periodic table, but able to join forces to provide hard diamond or soft graphite-like structures, very similar to those of the 6th element, carbon. Then there is the trifluoride - remember that acids were first classified as substances that could provide protons, but BF3 is the archetypal Lewis acid, which doesn't have a proton in sight, yet is able to coordinate with lone pairs, allowing it to catalyse an array of reactions. It can achieve this chemistry because boron really does have two sides to it - it is set up to form 3 bonds with adjacent atoms, but even in this state, readily forms an extra bond in order to complete the 2nd main shell of 8 electrons . but when it does this, it acquires a negative charge, and it can only regain neutrality by losing one of its bonds - it really does have a split personality.
But the real interest, the 'skydiving', starts when we look at the trihydride of boron. We'll return to this later on, as BH3 has structural subtleties that will really take us into sexy territory. But at this stage we'll simply see how boron's schizophrenic side can be used to good effect - add BH3 to an alkene, then throw in some alkaline hydrogen peroxide, and the oxygen first attaches to the boron, and then gets shuttled onto the adjacent carbon, all driven by this balance between 3- and 4-valent boron. This rather complicated reaction (mechanistically) is very reliable, and has been used for decades now as a simple way of turning alkenes into alcohols. Building on this idea, lots of clever variants allow one to introduce the alcohol very selectively, including my favourite of the reagent made by reacting borane with cycloocta-1,5-diene; the resulting dialkylborane is incredibly selective at attacking only the least substituted carbon of an alkene, and its often abbreviated schematically to a BH unit hanging down from two arcs, leading to its nickname as the parachute molecule.
So much for skydiving - what about motorbikes. Well this bit is rather like seeing what appears to be a 50cc moped, only to find that it goes from 0-to-60 in 3.5 seconds. Let me explain - the name boron comes from the mineral borax, which is a salt of the a really uninspiring acid called boracic acid. You can buy it from any pharmacist, and it's a mildly acidic antiseptic, and it essentially comprises a boron atom attached to three OH groups. And here's the surprise - you can fairly easily swap one OH for an aryl group, and you generate an aryl boronic acid capable of coupling to a whole range of aryl halides using palladium catalysis. This was a long sought-after process that many had thought impossible in high yield, until a chemist called Suzuki (hence the motorbike connection) found that boron could solve the trick.
And lastly to the sexy bit. I said that boron trihydride had a structural subtlety, and that is the fact that it was an 'impossible' molecule back in 1945, in that there was no known bonding that could account for its dimeric structure, or that of some related boron hydrides. And then in one of those 'Just William' sort of stories when a youngster gets the better of his elders, Christopher Longuet-Higgins, then an undergraduate at Cambridge, came up with the solution during a tutorial, publishing the landmark paper with his tutor whilst still only 20. Their explanation also predicted several new boron hydrides, which were duly discovered, as well as the fascinating field of boron cluster chemistry, in which the tri/tetra-valent schizophrenia of boron allows partner swaps and multiple bonding . but I won't elaborate further - you'll have to find out for yourself. But remember, don't just judge elements by their first appearance - they may have hidden secrets and unexpected talents.
So, split personalities, parachute molecules, and swapping partners - I certainly won't be judging this element on its first appearance. That was Keele University's Pat Bailey revealing the truth about Boron. Now, next time we meet an element that also believes in humility.
When it comes to use lanthanum best resembles a successful movie bit part player. Someone who never gets the lead role, but appears in film after film, solidly portraying different characters. Not a particularly expensive material to produce, lanthanum's many roles remain of a supporting kind, playing an essential part but avoiding the limelight.
Join Brian Clegg to find out how the humble lanthanum spreads itself around town in next week's Chemistry in its Element. Until then, thank you for listening, I'm Meera Senthilingam from the Naked Scientists.com.
Chemistry in its element is brought to you by the Royal Society of Chemistry and produced by thenakedscientists dot com. There's more information and other episodes of Chemistry in its element on our website at chemistryworld dot org forward slash elements.
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Supply risk data
Derived in part from material provided by the British Geological Survey © NERC.
© John Emsley 2012.
Produced by The Naked Scientists.
Periodic Table of Videos
Created by video journalist Brady Haran working with chemists at The University of Nottingham.