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article imageEssential Science: Introducing the ‘wonder material’ — borophene

By Tim Sandle     Apr 8, 2019 in Science
Forget graphene, there’s a new ‘super material’ that it getting scientists interested – borophene. The material has properties that are stronger and more flexible than graphene. We take a look at some future possibilities.
Borophene is composed of a single-atom layer of boron and its special properties mean that it could revolutionize the performance of sensors, batteries, and catalytic chemistry.
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Interest in borophene represents a growing research area into two-dimensional materials with special properties, stemming from earlier research with graphene. Graphene is formed from a monolayer of carbon atoms and it has many impressive properties. Graphene remains the strongest material ever tested. It is also flexible, transparent and conducts heat and electricity 10 times better than copper, and it has good optical properties (making it suitable for flexible display screens).
The ideal crystalline structure of graphene is a hexagonal grid
The ideal crystalline structure of graphene is a hexagonal grid
AlexanderAlUS / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Stories relating to graphene have been covered many times by Digital Journal (a selection can be found here). Despite the great potential, we’re still waiting for the great graphene wave to strike (turning lab based innovations to cost-effective items that can be scaled up often proves challenging). This slow progress hasn’t dampened enthusiasm into research into other two-dimensional materials and borophene is a leading case of the next-generation of super-materials.
What is borophene?
Borophene is a crystalline atomic monolayer of boron (a two-dimensional allotrope of boron). An alternative term for the material is “boron sheet.” The existence of borophene was predicted during the mid-1990s. However, it was not until 2015 that different borophene structures were experimentally proven., when crystalline and metallic borophenes were synthesized under ultrahigh-vacuum conditions onto metal surfaces.
The mechanical properties of borophene shows good elasticity and strong strength, similar to graphene. Where borophene has the edge is with its flexibility. The material is also an efficient conductor of electricity. To add to this there are impressive thermal, electronic, optical and other superconducting properties.
Unlike other two-dimensional materials, which appear smooth on the nanoscale, borophene appears as corrugated cardboard. The "ridges" of this structure are termed anisotropy, and this affords borophene its partiucalr mechanical and electronic properties.
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What can borophere deliver?
According a discussion in MIT Review, borophene offers advaantegs that can be utilized by several science disciplinces. For example, electrochemists are of the view that borophene will become the anode material in a new generation of more powerful lithium-ion batteries. Whereas chemists think that the catalytic capabilities of borophene will confer a number of industrial advanatges. From a different discipline, physicists are experimenting with the abilities of borophene to act as a sensor for the detection of various types of atoms and molecules.
Current research
There are a number of research projects running, examining the properties of borophene at different universities. For example, scientists at Rice University have determined that two-dimensional boron is a natural low-temperature superconductor. Moreover, borophene may be the only 2-D material with such potential. This could help with the development of the next generation of super-computers.
Taking the consumer electronics route, researchers at the University of Utah are running tests to explore how borophene could open the door for much speedier computers and smartphones that also consume a lot less power. This taps into a benefit of 2D materials. Borophene, being made of one layer the thickness of just one or two atoms, can only move electrons in one layer, meaning that it is much faster.
A different research team at Rice University are looking at how ‘wavy’ borophene might be the best option for designing truly flexible electronics. This captures the material's stretchability together with its useful electronic properties. These are best realized when borophene is grown on silver. Under these conditions, borophene adopts its accordion-like form.
Essential Science
frankieleon (CC BY 2.0)
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we considered the risk that glitter poses to the ecosystem, due to most glitters being composed of microplastics. This has led many scientists to call for a ban on glitter and related materials.
The week before, we weighed in on the debate about the impact of cannabis on the brain, where studies offer different evidence and contrasting perspectives.
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