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Boron: It's more than just Silly Putty

Prestigious Leibniz prizewinner delivers lecture on new boron chemistry research

Holger Braunschweig discusses the similarities of his home university, University of Würzburg, to the University of Calgary during his recent Leibniz lecture.

Boron chemistry. While it might not be a household name, those who have ever used Silly Putty, seen funky green flames, or perhaps more commonly, glass or glazes, have been exposed to this unique element in one of its compound forms.

Holger Braunschweig, a leading German academic in the field of inorganic chemistry and recipient of the prestigious Leibniz Prize, gave a lecture on May 4 to discuss his research on new synthetic strategies to overcome the inherent electron deficiency of boron.

Approximately 70 people from the campus community and beyond were in attendance to hear Braunschweig’s lecture, entitled Turning Boron Chemistry on its Head: The Unusual Chemistry of Boron in Low Oxidation States.

“Boron is more interesting than simply being used to create glass or silly putty,” said Braunschweig. “It can also be used to produce anti-cancer drugs and inorganic electronics.”

Throughout his lecture, Braunschweig discussed the various tests he conducted on different oxidation states, reactivity, and the importance of investigating the different properties that were found through his testing. While his research took place in a controlled environment (meaning the results of his tests would not necessarily translate in different conditions), potential applications from his research have shown that boron can emit phosphorous light and be used to produce coinage.

The event was put together as a joint effort between University of Calgary International and the German Research Foundation (DFG), who funds the Leibniz prize and organizes Leibniz lectures in different regions across the world to promote the prize, the research conducted by the prize holders, and the high quality of German research in general.

“We have many ties to Germany and events like this really help to renew excellence in scientific research and develop strategic relationships,” says Janaka Ruwanpura, vice-provost (international). “As a region of emphasis in our international strategy, promoting international collaborations with Germany is key.”

Braunschweig’s work has extended far beyond Germany and he has contributed to more than 400 publications, the majority of which appeared in first-ranking journals. He focuses his research on a wide range of organometallic and main group element chemistry. He has a fundamental interest in novel molecular species, and much emphasis lies with the clarification of their detailed potential applications in organic synthesis, catalysis, or material science.