Cubic boron nitride (c-BN) nucleation takes place on hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) layers growing perpendicular to the substrate surface during thin film synthesis. Studies focused on the nucleation of the cubic phase suggest the possibility that transient phases and/or defects on these h-BN structures have a role in sp3-bonded cubic phase nucleation. In this study, we have investigated the nature, energetics, and structure of several possible defects on BN basal planes, including point defects, 4-, and 5-fold BN rings, that may possibly match the experimentally observed transient phase fine structure. TEM image observations are used to build approximate atomic models for the proposed structures, and DFT calculations are used to relax these structures while minimizing their respective total energies. These optimized atomic geometries are then used to simulate TEM images, which are compared to the experimentally observed structures. Data from DFT calculations and analysis of simulated images from the proposed atomic structures suggest that 4-fold BN rings are more likely to exist on the transient phase possibly leading to c-BN nucleation. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.