Claim made for hydrogen ‘wonder material’

Pressure stagesImage copyright
HARVARD UNIVERSIT/R.DIAS/I.SILVERA

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The sample went from transparent, to black, to highly reflective

Scientists in the US say they have at last managed to turn hydrogen into a state where it behaves like a metal.

If that is true – and it is a controversial claim – it fulfils a more than 80-year quest to produce what many have said would be a wonder material.

Theory suggests metallic hydrogen could be used to make zero-resistance electrical wiring and super-powerful rocket fuel, among many applications.

Ranga Dias and Isaac Silvera are the Harvard researchers behind the work.

They report their experiments in this week’s Science Magazine.

“It’s the first time solid metallic hydrogen has ever existed on Earth,” Prof Silvera told the BBC.

The pair say the quantity of metallic hydrogen created so far is tiny – an amount less than the cross section of a human hair. But in time, they believe, ways could be found to boost its production.

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Harvard University

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Ranga Dias stands in front of the experimental set-up

Their laboratory approach – as is common in this field of study – was to squeeze a cell containing a small sample of molecular hydrogen between two synthetic diamonds.

In the Science paper, Dias and Silvera say this diamond anvil cell (DAC) achieved pressures up to 495 gigapascals.

That is the equivalent of sitting under almost five million Earth atmospheres. The DAC was also chilled down to close to minus 270 Celsius.

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