Characteristics of boron
Boron, of symbol B, is the fifth lightest element in the universe. It has atomic number 5, that to say, it has 5 protons in its nucleus (apart from neutrons), and 5 electrons around it. Boron is a hard metal, and it is considered the second most heavy element on the Earth. This element is considered a metalloid (it presents characteristics that are intermediate between non-metals and metals).
Boron is an element that can exist in the form of crystals of different colours, or in the form of powder. In its crystalline form, it is a brittle, lustrous black or red metalloid. In its amorphous form, however, it is a brown powder. Even so, all the forms in which boron exists have a common characteristic: their boiling point is very high (about 4,000ºC).
On Earth, boron is a very scarce element. Its abundance in the Earth’s crust is only 10 ppm (parts per million).
It is an element that is only created by the collision of cosmic rays with particles and objects on the Earth (or other celestial bodies), and in the supernovae explosions. It isn’t created in the process of nuclear fusion that takes place in the interior of stars. This is one of the causes that explain its scarcity.
Uses of boron
- Boric acid is used as an antiseptic to treat mild infections.
- Boron is an element that is regularly used in the manufacturing of glass, borosilicate fibre, and ceramic products.
- Boron is also a compound in fertilizers.
- A boron layer and its alloys is applied to some objects to slow down the spreading of possible flames.
- The most powerful existing magnets are manufactured with an alloy of boron, iron and neodymium. Diverse electronic devices use this type of magnets, such as headphones, loudspeakers or particle accelerators.
- Boron is also used in the manufacturing of bulletproof vests and armor trucks.
Boron was discovered in 1808 by the French chemists Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac and L.J. Thénard, even if the discovered boron had a purity of the 60%. Later on, in 1892, a purer form of boron was isolated by the French chemist Henri Moissan.
It wasn’t until 1909 that Ezekiel Weintraub isolated boron with a purity of almost 100%. The obtained boron presented different characteristics from the ones measured in the past.