What is Boron? - Facts, Uses, Properties & Benefits

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  • 0:09 Basics of Boron
  • 1:21 Uses and Benefits
  • 4:06 Boron Properties
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Roger Harris
Discover the fascinating element boron, which is a vital component in many modern technologies. We explore the uses of boron in applications from cooking vessels to the Space Shuttle and why it has such useful properties.

Boron Basics

Do you like apple pie? To make a great apple pie, you might use a glass Pyrex cup to measure ingredients or a Pyrex dish to bake the pie. These kitchen vessels are made from a special type of glass called borosilicate glass. Cooks love this type of glass because it is able to withstand rapid temperature changes. Other kinds of glasses easily crack under thermal shock. All manufactured glass is based on silica, or silicon dioxide, which you know better as sand. Borosilicate glass differs from regular glass by the inclusion of boron, one of the 92 naturally-occurring elements.

Boron does not occur in its elemental state on Earth, but various borate minerals are found in natural deposits worldwide. Almost half of the world's boron production is in Turkey through mining of borate minerals such as colemanite. Although boron compounds had been known since ancient times, the element was not isolated until 1808. It was given the chemical symbol, B, from its name boron, derived from the Arabic word buraq, which referred to boron compounds such as borax.

Uses and Benefits

Today, borax is one of the most important uses of boron. A boron-sodium compound, borax has the chemical formula Na2B4O7 and has dozens of uses. One of borax's weirder uses is to cure snake skins! You may be more likely to use it as a whitener in laundry and cleaning products. It's also used as a pH buffer in chemical laboratories, and as a water-softener. People also commonly use borax as an insecticide, due to its relatively low toxicity for humans.

borax crystals

Most boron ends up being used as boric acid, H3BO3. Some uses of boric acid are similar to those of borax, including as a pH buffer, a preservative, and as an insecticide. If you've ever had to use cockroach bait or flea powder, you were likely using boric acid. It also has medical applications as an antiseptic or antifungal agent. If you like to go to the swimming pool, you can thank boric acid, which helps to keep the water clear.

Borosilicate glass is used in laboratory glassware and electronics as well as the kitchen. Reflecting telescopes also use this type of glass because it does not expand with heat as much as other types of glass. This property also led to the use of borosilicate glass coating on the protective thermal insulation tiles on NASA's Space Shuttle.

Elemental boron is mostly used in high tech applications. Boron fibers or filaments are used in high tensile materials such as tapes or composite materials for aerospace applications. High-end sports gear such as fishing rods and golf clubs may also use boron fibers.

boron chunks in glass dish

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