Metallic Hydrogen Has Been Finally Produced In A Lab

metallic hydrogen diamonds

A quite bizarre element, metallic hydrogen has been produced for the first time in a lab.

A quite bizarre element, metallic hydrogen has been produced for the first time in a lab. Science first predicted its existence and started analyzing it some 80 years ago.

Back in 1935, a team of scientists predicted that hydrogen could become metallic. Hydrogen is one of the simplest known elements. And the physicists considered that its properties can change. But only if put under pressure.

At the time, they estimated this pressure at around 25 GigaPascals. A GigaPascal amounts to around 10,000 atmospheres of pressure. Over time, their approximation was proven to be quite far off. The necessary pressure turned out to be higher than 380 GigaPascals.

This discovery was made just last year. And it only accounted for the hydrogen breaking down. The element started dividing into its individual atoms.

A pair of Harvard University researchers took the matter one step further. They further increased the utilized GigaPascal value. And for the first time ever, they achieved metallic hydrogen.

A study on the matter was released earlier this week. It was published in the Science Journal. Available online starting with January 26, it was titled as follows. “Observation of the Wigner-Huntington transition to metallic hydrogen”.

Isaac Silvera, the study’s lead author, went to offer details. According to him, metallic hydrogen has never existed on Earth. Silvera is a Harvard University condensed matter physicist.

He also points out the following possibility. Metallic hydrogen may not have even existed in our Universe. The conditions may not have advantaged its creation.

This bizarre new element can be described in quite simple terms. Hydrogen is a normally transparent element. As its atom bonds have been broken down, it starts to become shiny. And also quite reflective. The metallic hydrogen also acquires several other properties. These are, quite evidently, associated with metals.

Such elements are good electricity conductors. Through its current transformation, the metallic hydrogen also acquired electric conductivity features. The element should supposedly be able to conduct electricity. And to do so even at lower temperatures.

This hydrogen’s exact applications have yet to be established. But some suggest that it may be a very useful rocket fuel. It could be an extremely powerful but also ultralight fuel.

Silvera and his team were able to create the element by using diamonds. As they had to apply an ultra-high pressure, they also needed a very resistant base. Diamonds are the strongest natural materials on Earth. But in previous studies, even these were broke.

For the current study, the researchers used two ultrapure diamonds. But they also tried to make them more robust. So they skipped using natural diamonds. Instead, they created their own synthetic diamonds. These lacked the tiny inconsistencies of the natural product. Put under pressure, these can turn into crack points. Which can lead to breakdowns.

The scientists further strengthened the diamond anvils. They coated them in alumina. This latter can be found in sapphires. The resulting anvils were cooled down. They were brought to about minus 452 degrees Fahrenheit.

And then, they began squeezing the solid hydrogen sample. The pressure used? 495 Gigapascals. As the hydrogen changed properties, it became opaque. In its final version, it turned out to be shiny.

Follow-up tests were carried out. And they confirmed that this was, indeed, metallic hydrogen.

For the moment, the element is still being held under pressure. The researchers are unsure if it will remain stable once the pressure is released.

Many more studies and research will be needed. Science still has to determine the element’s properties. Or how they could be best utilized. The current experimental setup is under pressure and awaiting the next tests.

Still, if proven stable, the element could have some incredible uses. It could be made into a room-temperature superconductor. This could help develop MRI machines. Or even magnetic levitating trains. Neither would need to be cooled down.

Or it could be turned into rocket fuel. If proven efficient, if may become the most powerful such propellant. In large quantities, it could revolutionize the rocket industry.

Still, for the moment, the team will be carrying out follow-up tests. They will be testing the metallic hydrogen pressure-free stability. And they will also be analyzing its conductivity at normal pressures and temperatures.

Image Source: Wikimedia


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