The making of a polymer from a chain of boron atoms is presently considered to be more science fiction than science – this indeed is the dream of Würzburg Chemistry Professor Holger Braunschweig, who recently received a 1.5 million Euro grant for making boron polymers a reality.
How a potential boron polymer could look: boron atoms shown in green, oxygen atoms shown in red, carbon and hydrogen atoms shown in grey. (Image credit: Dr. Rian Dewhurst)
Plastic bags from polyethylene, frying pans with Teflon coatings, packaging from polystyrene: routine life is awash with polymers. Polymers are chemically regarded as long, chain-like molecules comprising of backbones based almost entirely on carbon (and sometimes silicon) atoms. Various other types of polymers are rare.
Recently, the team of Chemistry Professor Holger Braunschweig at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, set their sights on the construction of polymers based on chains of boron atoms. The as-yet-unknown boron polymers are anticipated to have greatly unusual and beneficial properties – greater electrical conductance than polymers usually employed in the organic electronics industry being just one example.
Proposal to the DFG Finds Success
Holger Braunschweig presented a successful research proposal to the German Research Foundation (DFG) on this topic: for this goal he will obtain 1.5 million Euros from the DFG's Reinhart Koselleck program. This program was developed in order to support specifically innovative and risky projects.
With this funding, Prof. Braunschweig expects to produce efficient synthetic strategies to boron polymers. In this respect, it is indeed important to prevent the boron chains from failing in on themselves and developing clusters – a tendency that the element boron is well-known for. The research team has derived five promising strategies to create the desired chains. If successful, they will have discovered a basically new class of materials, the probable applications of which could be huge.
Global Recognition as Boron Expert
The Reinhard Koselleck program of the DFG solely funds researchers with excellent scientific track records. Holger Braunschweig has been recognized as an international expert in the chemistry of the element boron. His earlier work includes a succession of fundamental innovations in this field – including, among others, the synthesis of the very first compound comprising of a triple bond between two boron atoms.
For his work, Braunschweig has been honored with two ERC Advanced Grants, each coming with 2.5 million Euro of research funding. He also received the 2.5 million Euro Leibniz Prize of the DFG in 2009.