The discovery of metallic hydrogen may revolutionize technology, railways and spaceflight. However, there's a catch -- scientists are uncertain of its stability.
It was just a theory until experts proved the existence of metallic hydrogen. It has been 80 years, since physicists Hillard Bell Huntington and Eugene Wigner proposed that hydrogen when at room temperature, could occur in a metallic state if exposed to extreme pressure. Now the hunch turned into reality.
Post-doctoral Ranga Dias explaning the process of creating metallic hydrogen (c) Youtube
Harvard physicist Isaac Silvera and post-doctoral fellow Ranga Dias cracked the code. The details of their study where they turned the lightest, rarest element to a metal is reported in the journal Science.
The scientists made this possible by squeezing a tiny hydrogen sample at more than 71.7 million pounds per square inch, which is greater than the pressure at the center of the Earth. They created this force using synthetic diamonds placed opposite each other in a device known as a diamond anvil cell. They treated the diamonds with a special process to keep them from cracking, a problem that has foiled prior experiments.
If the pressurized hydrogen maintains its metallic properties at room temperature, this would make it extremely useful as a superconductor. However, experts need to conduct further studies to assure that ability.
Professor Isaac Silvera, who made the breakthrough with Dr Ranga Dias, said in an interview
, “this is the holy grail of high-pressure physics."
“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.”
Experts say, if metallic hydrogen has a stable surface and wouldn't gradually decay, it may provide a form of rocket fuel nearly four times more powerful than the best available today.
“It takes a tremendous amount of energy to make metallic hydrogen,” Professor Silvera told the Telegraph
“And if you convert it back to molecular hydrogen, all that energy is released, so it would make it the most powerful rocket propellant known to man, and could revolutionize rocketry."