Scientists at Harvard University in Cambridge (United States) were able to create the rarest and potentially one of the most valuable materials on the planet: atomic metallic hydrogen. It was created by the professor of Natural Sciences Isaac Silvera and the postdoctoral researcher Ranga Dias.
For more than a century, scientists – on a general level – have dreamed of converting the lighter element of all, hydrogen, into a metal.
In 1935, physicists Eugene Wigner and Hillard Bell Huntington predicted that under immense pressure, hydrogen atoms would exhibit metallic properties. Since then, metallic hydrogen has been described as “the holy grail of high pressure physics”.
In the course of their study, scientists Silvera and Dias squeezed a small sample of hydrogen at a pressure higher than the center of the Earth: 495 gigapascals, or more than 71.7 million pounds per square inch.
Silvera explains that at these extreme pressures, solid molecular hydrogen – which consists of molecules at half-circles of the solid – breaks down and the tightly bound molecules dissociate to become atomic hydrogen, which is a metal.
“It is the first sample of metallic hydrogen on the planet; So when you look at it you are looking at something that has never existed before, “Silvera says.
The small piece of metal can only be seen through two diamonds that were used to subject liquid hydrogen to a temperature well below freezing and at really high pressures.
The question that now arises is whether this pressurized hydrogen could maintain its metallic properties at room temperature, something that would grant some very interesting uses as a superconductor. The authors of this discovery believe they do, but still need to be tested and tested for their effectiveness.
If atomic metal hydrogen could act as a superconductor at room temperature, that would be revolutionary because it would have a wide range of applications
Currently, 15 percent of energy is lost through dissipation during transmission, but “if we could make cables of this material and use them in the electricity grid, it would be possible to change that history,” Silvera says.
At the same time, Dias maintains that a room-temperature superconductor could completely change the transport system, making magnetic levitation of high-speed trains possible, as well as increasing the efficiency of electric cars and improving the performance of many electronic devices. Hydrogen metal would also help significantly improve energy production and storage.
In addition to transforming life on Earth, the material could play an essential role in exploring space and “revolutionizing space engineering” by becoming the “most powerful rocket propeller known to man,” Silvera predicts, adding that that would allow “easy exploration of the outer planets”.
To confirm the discovery, a group of physicists will perform additional tests.