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Beryllium-beryllium bond illuminated

Scientists study a partnership that chemical theory says shouldn’t exist

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4:47pm, May 21, 2009

Beryllium is one of those self-loathing elements. Like helium or neon, an atom of beryllium should not partner with another, chemical theory says. But new research, published online May 21 in Science, definitively reports the nature of the beryllium-beryllium bond.

“People envisioned the beryllium atom as this sphere like a billiard ball that just bounces off another billiard ball,” says quantum chemist Rodney Bartlett of the University of Florida in Gainesville. “They’re happy with the electrons the way they are — there’s no tendency to form a bond.”

Element 4 on the periodic table, the strong, lightweight metal has two electrons in its outer shell, which could hold up to eight electrons. This arrangement means beryllium should happily team up with other elements, and it does. In nature, beryllium is a component of emeralds and also likes to bond with copper. But it should be repulsed by another beryllium atom.

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