X-Ray Diffraction Study of Boron Produced by Pyrolysis of Boron Tribromide
The goal of this research was to determine the composition of boron deposits produced by pyrolysis of boron tribromide, and to use the results to (a) determine the experimental conditions (reaction temperature, etc.) necessary to produce alpha-rhombohedral boron and (b) guide the development/refinement of the pyrolysis experiments such that large, high purity crystals of alpha-rhombohedral boron can be produced with consistency. Developing a method for producing large, high purity alpha-rhombohedral boron crystals is of interest because such crystals could potentially be used to achieve an alpha-rhombohedral boron based neutron detector design (a solid-state detector) that could serve as an alternative to existing neutron detector technologies. The supply of neutron detectors in the United States has been hampered for a number of years due to the current shortage of helium-3 (a gas used in many existing neutron detector technologies); the development of alternative neutron detector technology such as an alpha-rhombohedral boron based detector would help provide a more sustainable supply of neutron detectors in this country. In addition, the prospect/concept of an alpha-rhombohedral boron based neutron detector is attractive because it offers the possibility of achieving a design that is smaller, longer life, less power consuming, and potentially more sensitive than existing neutron detectors. The main difficulty associated with creating an alpha-rhombohedral boron based neutron detector is that producing large, high purity crystals of alpha-rhombohedral boron is extremely challenging. Past researchers have successfully made alpha-rhombohedral boron via a number of methods, but no one has developed a method for consistently producing large, high purity crystals. Alpha-rhombohedral boron is difficult to make because it is only stable at temperatures below around 1100-1200 °C, its formation is very sensitive to impurities, and the conditions necessary for its formation are not fully understood or agreed upon in the literature. In this research, the method of pyrolysis of boron tribromide (hydrogen reduction of boron tribromide) was used to deposit boron on a tantalum filament. The goal was to refine this method, or potentially use it in combination with a second method (amorphous boron crystallization), to the point where it is possible to grow large, high purity alpha-rhombohedral boron crystals with consistency. A pyrolysis apparatus was designed and built, and a number of trials were run to determine the conditions (reaction temperature, etc.) necessary for alpha-rhombohedral boron production. This work was focused on the x-ray diffraction analysis of the boron deposits; x-ray diffraction was performed on a number of samples to determine the types of boron (and other compounds) formed in each trial and to guide the choices of test conditions for subsequent trials. It was found that at low reaction temperatures (in the range of around 830-950 °C), amorphous boron was the primary form of boron produced. Reaction temperatures in the range of around 950-1000 °C yielded various combinations of crystalline boron and amorphous boron. In the first trial performed at a temperature of 950 °C, a mix of amorphous boron and alpha-rhombohedral boron was formed. Using a scanning electron microscope, it was possible to see small alpha-rhombohedral boron crystals (on the order of ~1 micron in size) embedded in the surface of the deposit. In subsequent trials carried out at reaction temperatures in the range of 950 °C – 1000 °C, it was found that various combinations of alpha-rhombohedral boron, beta-rhombohedral boron, and amorphous boron were produced; the results tended to be unpredictable (alpha-rhombohedral boron was not produced in every trial), and the factors leading to success/failure were difficult to pinpoint. These results illustrate how sensitive of a process producing alpha-rhombohedral boron can be, and indicate that further improvements to the test apparatus and test conditions (for example, higher purity/cleanliness) may be necessary to optimize the boron deposition. Although alpha-rhombohedral boron crystals of large size were not achieved, this research was successful in (a) developing a pyrolysis apparatus and test procedure that can serve as a platform for future testing, (b) determining reaction temperatures at which alpha-rhombohedral boron can form, and (c) developing a consistent process for analyzing the boron deposits and determining their composition. Further experimentation is necessary to achieve a pyrolysis apparatus and test procedure that can yield large alpha-rhombohedral boron crystals with consistency.
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