After almost one century of being predicted by physicists, metallic hydrogen is claimed to be a reality according to two scientists from Harvard University, Professor Isaac Silvera and Dr. Ranga Dias. The scientists described this rare creation in a paper published in Science on January 26.
“This is the holy grail of high-pressure physics,” Professor Silvera explained. “It’s the first-ever sample of metallic hydrogen on Earth, so when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at something that’s never existed before.”
They managed to create the rarest, and possibly most valuable, material on the planet by squeezing it to incredibly high pressures between two ultrapure diamonds. The amount of pressure needed was immense – more than is found at the center of the Earth.
Credit: Ranga Dias; Isaac Silvera
At the moment scientists don’t know much about the material’s properties. The tiny piece of metal can only be seen through two diamonds that were used to crush liquid hydrogen at a temperature far below freezing.
The next risky step is to establish whether the metal is stable at normal pressures and temperatures. If it succeeds, metallic hydrogen could transform humanity’s efforts to explore our solar system by providing a form of rocket fuel nearly four times more powerful than the best available today.
Professor Silvera commented: “We would be able to put rockets into orbit with only one stage, versus two, and could send up larger payloads, so it could be very important.”
On the other hand, some experts are having doubts about that. They argue that the shiny material may be something else entirely – like aluminum oxide, which is known to coat the diamonds that sit in the anvil and may become shiny under high pressure.
Griffin, from Independent UK news, say that scientists have also questioned why the team published their results before they have taken the material out of the anvil, and will get to work on doing other experiments. But the researchers claimed in press materials that they had done so in order to publicize their “breakthrough event”, and that further experiments would shed more light.
“It’s a tremendous achievement, and even if it only exists in this diamond anvil cell at high pressure, it’s a very fundamental and transformative discovery”, Professor Silvera said.
Ghose, T. (2017). Lab-Made ‘Metallic Hydrogen’ Could Revolutionize Rocket Fuel. Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2jGM5xD
Johnston, I. (2017). Hydrogen turned into metal in stunning act of alchemy that could revolutionise technology and spaceflight. Retrieved from: http://ind.pn/2k6kjNT
Griffin, A. (2017). Physicists might have made a mistake in claiming to have turned hydrogen into a metal, experts say. Retrieved from: http://ind.pn/2jbtAoU