Unprecedented formation of a boron-boron covalent bond opens a new corner of chemistry
Boron-based chemical compounds rarely form simple structures. Boron is an electron-deficient element; and, as electrons are the glue that hold compounds together, this leads to some unusual bonding behavior. Using a new method developed in Japan to link two boron atoms together by a regular, single covalent bond, the element can be forced into more conventional behavior. The method was developed by a team of researchers including Yoshiaki Shoji, Tsukasa Matsuo, and Kohei Tamao at the RIKEN Advanced Science Institute, Wako.
The compound that the researchers made features two boron atoms held together by a shared pair of electrons. For other elementscarbon, for examplethat would be a typical bond, but electron-poor boron tends to prefer a more complex arrangement. In the boron compound diborane (B2H6), for example, two boron atoms are bridged by hydrogen atoms, with each boronhydrogenboron bond sharing a single pair of electrons across three atoms rather than the usual two.
Theory has long predicted that by pumping extra electrons into a compound such as diborane, the boronhydrogenboron structure should break down to form a boronboron single bond. Until now, however, all such attempts to make and isolate such a structure had failed, instead generating clusters or single boron species.
Matsuo and Tamaos strategy for generating the boronboron bond was to start with a borane precursor where each boron atom was fitted with a bulky side-group known as an Eind group. The researchers suspected that previous attempts probably succeeded in generating the boronboron single bond but failed to protect that structure from quickly falling apart through over-reaction. Using the bulky side-groups, they were able to block these over-reaction processes, and successfully isolate the desired boronboron single bond (Fig. 1).
Having discovered a new way to make the boronboron bond, the next step will be to assess its chemistry and reactivity, and to explore related structures, says Shoji. The bond has already proved to be relatively stable: the team has shown that if protected from air and moisture, the boronboron compound can be stored for months at ambient temperature. It can also be converted into a three-membered ring, in which a bridging hydrogen atom is the third member, forming a molecule with potentially useful properties. We think that the hydrogen-bridged boronboron bond has a double-bond character, says Matsuo. We would like to explore the new reaction chemistry of multiply bonded boron species.