07/16/2014 09:52 am ET

Scientists Discover First Boron 'Buckyballs'

Wang lab / Brown University

Chemists delight in finding out new ways atoms can arrange themselves to form novel, potentially useful molecules. Historians of science, meanwhile, delight in documenting the dramas of discovery. The observation in 1985 of the 60-carbon-atom buckminsterfullerene—its shape matched Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes—uncovered a world of nano-structures to study and a Nobel Prize for the team that first described them.

Larger carbon fullerenes (as this class of compounds is called) and ones made from other chemicals followed. More recently, minuscule straws called carbon nanotubes and atom-thick sheets of graphene have expanded the carbon collection. But from early on, some suggested that a "buckyball" could also be made with only the element boron, and chemists have tried to figure out what this might look like and how to make it in the lab.

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