Icosahedral packing of B12 icosahedra in boron suboxide (B6O)

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Objects with icosahedral symmetry (Ih) bear a special fascination; natural examples are rare, but include radiolaria1 and virus particles (virions)2. The discovery3 of C60, a molecule in the shape of a truncated icosahedron with Ih symmetry, has aroused widespread interest. In 1962, Mackay4 described a radiating packing of spheres in Ih symmetry, in which the centres of successive shells of spheres lie on the surfaces of icosahedra. There has been extensive investigation of the conditions under which such packing might be realized in assemblies of atoms or of molecules such as C60 (ref. 5). Here we report the preparation, at high temperatures and pressures, of boron suboxide (B6O) in which the preferred form of the material is as macroscopic, near-perfect, regular icosahedra, similar to the multiply-twinned particles observed in some cubic materials. A major difference is that B6O has a rhombohedral structure that nearly exactly fits the geometrical requirements needed to obtain icosahedral twins. These icosahedral particles have a structure that can be described as a Mackay packing of icosahedral B12 units, and thus has long-ranged order without translational symmetry.

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Figure 1: An element of decagonal sphere packing.
Figure 3: Morphology of B6O MTPs.
Figure 2: Reflected-light optical image of B6O icosahedral particles.
Figure 4: A part of the B6O structure showing c.c.p. packing (slightly distorted) of B12 icosahedra with O atoms (filled circles) in the close-packed layers.


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We thank K. Leinenweber for helpful discussions. This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Hervé Hubert.

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