Pure Boron can take two different forms: either a brown powder or a hard black solid, depending on how the atoms are arranged but it’s usually found in minerals such as borax.
Borax has been used by humans for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used it in their mummification process to keep dead bodies well preserved for burial, ancient Arabic doctors made medicines from it and the Romans used it to make glass! Even today you can still find boron in some glass items – like a Pyrex oven dish or test tube.
We’ve found some new uses for boron as well though – boron carbide is a particularly strong material and so armies use it for making tanks and bullet proof vests. Boron is used in nuclear reactors as a shield to make sure there’s no radiation leaking out and it’s found in super-strong neodymium magnets which are used in computers, DVD players, speakers and mobile phones.
Plants need Boron to grow but too much can be poisonous, both to plants and other organisms. Boromycin is a boron-containing antibiotic made by certain bacteria, and borax can be used to kill insects and fungi. Substances like borax can be poisonous to humans as well as bugs but scientists suspect that having no boron in our bodies at all would be bad for us. No-one has been able to test this because it’s impossible to get rid of the tiny amounts of boron that we swallow from our food, water and even the air!