5. Boron: Working Hard, Or Hardly Working?

Today, we look past boron’s hard exterior to get acquainted with its softer side. Its confusing, gooey, softer side.

Featured above: Chemistry equipment found the world over is made using borosilicate glass.

Aaron and Rosie Winters in the 1880s.

No More I Love Yous: Kind of like Bill Brand in the episode on lithium, Aaron and Rosie Winters’ ending is not a happy one.

The two bought a huge ranch in Nevada with their newfound riches, but shortly after, Rosie died suddenly. Aaron fell far behind on his tax payments, and eventually lost the ranch. He ended his life as a hermit, wandering the hills in search of another fortune.

Spallation Sensation: Lithium, beryllium, and boron are unique among the elements, because they were not formed in the big bang (aside from a minuscule amount of lithium), are not formed by stellar fusion, and are not formed when stars go supernova. (This is basically how all other natural elements form.) Instead, they’re created when high-energy cosmic rays collide with heavier atoms, splitting them into the lighter atoms of lithium, beryllium, and boron. This is called “cosmic ray spallation.”

Suffice it to say, this is not something that happens with great frequency, and that’s why elements 3, 4, and 5 are much less abundant than the others in the periodic table’s first few rows. The main reason we’re able to find them in concentrated amounts is because water does that work for us, notably when drying up, like at Salar de Uyuni.

Metalloidica: There’s not a definitive collection of metalloids that everyone agrees upon, unfortunately, due to the somewhat subjective nature of the qualifying criteria. Boron, silicon, germanium, arsenic, antimony, and tellurium are pretty solidly defined as metalloids, but some scientists contend that polonium and astatine should count, too. Sometimes selenium is added to the mix, and very rarely, carbon and aluminum are counted as metalloids, too. The gradient of metals to nonmetals gets even fuzzier when you account for transition metals and post-transition metals — but we’ll get there in due time.

Homegrown Crystal Magic: As promised, here’s a pretty good tutorial on how to grow borax crystals. It’s pretty easy! You may wish to omit the food coloring if you’re highly focused on chemical purity:


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  1. The Mojave Project, Borax: The Magic Crystal. Kim Stringfellow, 2014.
  2. Loafing Along Death Valley Trails, Chapter III: Aaron and Rosie Winters. William Caruthers, 1950.
  3. The Cambridge Sentinel, Vol. VII, No. 10. The Green Flame. Cuthbert Baker, January 15, 1910.
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica, Metal (Chemistry). Last updated August 20, 2014.
  5. Polymer Solutions, Metal Properties 101.
  6. Reade Specialty Chemicals Resource, Mohs Hardnesses Of The Elements.
  7. APA VIATA, Advantages Of Borosilicate Glass.
  8. Glassware Tales, What Is Borosilicate Glass? 2012.
  9. Bionity, DURAN Group Celebrates 120 Years Of Laboratory Glassware Made From Borosilicate Glass. Tobias A. Thiele, 2007.
  10. Science 2.0, The Weird Accident Behind The Invention Of Silly Putty. May 9, 2011.
  11. GE Reports, The Amazing Origin Of Silly Putty. May 3, 2011. Retrieved from archive.org.
  12. Huffington Post, A Touch Of Knowledge: The Very Serious History Of Silly Putty. Marc Hartzman, Last updated May 1, 2012.
  13. Popular Science, The Troubling Truth About Vitamins And Herbal Supplements. Sara Chodosh, July 25, 2017.
  14. The New York Times, New York Attorney General Targets Supplements At Major Retailers. Anahad O’Connor, February 3, 2015.
  15. In the form of disodium octaborate tetrahydrate
  16. The Royal Society of Chemistry, Education In Chemistry: Boron. John Emsley, July 3, 2014.

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