As well as forming triple bonds, boron atoms can now link up chains – in carbon that makes proteins, plastics and alcohols possible.
In a tightly sealed flask in a German lab sits an emerald-green crystal that is the first stable compound with a triple chemical bond between two boron atoms. Such bonds were previously reserved for an elite club of atoms, including carbon, which sits next to boron in the periodic table.
In another first, boron atoms have linked up with each other in chains. Carbon's tendency to do so is the basis for organic chemistry, making possible DNA, proteins, alcohols and plastics. Synthetic, or alien, life based on boron remains far-fetched - boron still can't link to other life-related compounds, for one thing. But the feats pave the way for boron-based polymers, and other structures previously undreamed of.