First Experimental Evidence of Existence of Metallic Hydrogen

A team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh has reconstructed a unique material which constitutes much of the larger planets in the solar system.

A recent experiment has offered a look at a so-far-unseen state of hydrogen which can only be found in pressures exceeding 3 million times that of the atmosphere of Earth.

Generally, hydrogen is one of the most plentiful elements found in the Universe. This high-pressure form of hydrogen is thought to be found in the interiors of Jupiter and Saturn. The sun could also contain this type of hydrogen.

For years, researchers have strived to recreate this form of hydrogen, which is referred to as the metallic state and often thought of as the holy grail of this area of physics. Nearly eight decades ago, researchers theorized the existence of atomic and metallic forms of hydrogen that could be formed at high pressures. However, they have failed to experimentally prove the existence of this high-pressure form of hydrogen until now.

“The finding will help to advance the fundamental and planetary sciences.” Professor Eugene Gregoryanz, School of Physics and Astronomy.

In this current research, two diamonds were used to squeeze hydrogen molecules in order to record pressures, and study its behavior. The experiment revealed that at elevated pressures of up to 3.25 million times the pressure of the Earth’s atmosphere, hydrogen converted into a new solid phase, referred to as phase V. This exotic phase also displayed various fascinating and remarkable properties. The molecules of hydrogen started to split into individual atoms, and, in turn, the electrons within the atoms started to act like those in metals.

Phase V is the first step towards molecular separation. Much higher pressures are required to create pure metallic and atomic state as predicted by theory.

The Nature journal published the research, which was supported by a Leadership Fellowship from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The past 30 years of the high-pressure research saw numerous claims of the creation of metallic hydrogen in the laboratory, but all these claims were later disproved. Our study presents the first experimental evidence that hydrogen could behave as predicted, although at much higher pressures than previously thought.

Professor Eugene Gregoryanz - School of Physics and Astronomy

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