About eight years ago, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Mark Lee Jr. was in the lab trying to make a simple ether compound from a boron-oxygen-hydrogen bond. He injected the mixture he was trying to manipulate into his lab’s new mass spectrometer and found the reaction he was trying to achieve had failed. However, Lee says he saw evidence of a chemical reaction involving boron atoms, which should not have happened because the boron should have been inert and would not usually participate in such chemical reactions. He tucked that observation away in his mind as a curiosity to be explored at some later date.
Then, about three years ago, Lee was teaching one of three sections of a huge general chemistry class—1,500 freshmen, which he calls a high-pressure, 24/7 endeavor.