Graphene may soon have an equally versatile, nanomaterial rival, based on recent findings from researchers at Brown University — the long-predicted but until now elusive material, Borophene, has been shown experimentally to be a real possibility.
The material — essentially just a one-atom-thick sheet of boron — is expected to possess a number of notable and useful qualities, just like graphene, but as opposed to being only semi-metallic like graphene, borophene is expected to be fully metallic. That quality means that borophene could find itself being of more use, in some regards, than graphene. Of course the material has to actually be created first, something that the new research suggests probably isn’t all that far off.
Brown University explains the new research:
In the lab and on supercomputers, chemical engineers have determined that a unique arrangement of 36 boron atoms in a flat disc with a hexagonal hole in the middle may be the preferred building blocks for “borophene.”
Graphene has been heralded as a wonder material. Made of a single layer of carbon atoms in a honeycomb arrangement, graphene is stronger pound-for-pound than steel and conducts electricity better than copper. Since the discovery of graphene, scientists have wondered if boron, carbon’s neighbor on the periodic table, could also be arranged in single-atom sheets. Theoretical work suggested it was possible, but the atoms would need to be in a very particular arrangement.
Boron has one fewer electron than carbon and as a result can’t form the honeycomb lattice that makes up graphene. For boron to form a single-atom layer, theorists suggested that the atoms must be arranged in a triangular lattice with hexagonal vacancies — holes — in the lattice.
“That was the prediction,” stated Lai-Sheng Wang, professor of chemistry at Brown, “but nobody had made anything to show that’s the case. We haven’t made borophene yet, but this work suggests that this structure is more than just a calculation.”
The research shows that a cluster of 36 boron atoms (B36) forms a perfectly symmetrical, one-atom thick disc with a perfect hexagonal hole in the middle — just what the researchers were hoping for.
“It’s beautiful,” Wang said. “It has exact hexagonal symmetry with the hexagonal hole we were looking for. The hole is of real significance here. It suggests that this theoretical calculation about a boron planar structure might be right.”
Wang notes that it may be possible to use B36 basis to form an extended planar boron sheet — or, in other words, to produce borophene on a relatively large scale.
“We still only have one unit,” Wang continued. “We haven’t made borophene yet, but this work suggests that this structure is more than just a calculation.”
The new research was just published in the journal Nature Communications.
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