Two scientists from Harvard University, Professor Isaac Silvera, along with Dr. Ranga Dias from Sri Lanka have successfully created metallic hydrogen. Something that is thought to be the rarest and also most valuable material on earth. In simple terms, this could be one of the biggest scientific achievements in recent times.
The uses of Metallic Hydrogen are possibly limitless. It has the potential to completely transform technology as we know it. This means anything from high-speed computers, to high-speed maglev trains. Furthermore, it could also allow us to reach one of our most sought after goals: exploration of outer space.
All this thoroughly depends on the next step of the two scientists. This step involves confirming if the metal retains its stability at regular pressure and temperatures. If it fails, that’s pretty much the end of that dream. Thus far, however, the sample is the first of its kind to be present on earth.
Metallic Hydrogen Meets Queen: Under Pressure
Similar to other high pressure work, the experiment made use of diamond anvils. These use two diamonds to crush any material placed between them. The diamonds are capable of withstanding an enormous amount of pressure.
A small amount of liquid hydrogen was placed between these two anvils. It was then crushed in an environment below freezing temperature. If you think the pressure you face at your exams is a lot, then you haven’t seen anything. The amount of pressure needed here was more than is found at the center of the Earth. How much pressure, you ask? Well around 400 GigaPascals. Each of this GigaPascals is more or less equivalent to 10,000 atmospheres of pressure. Around the 465 and 495 GigaPascals mark, the sample turned reflective, which is a key feature of metals.
They also noted that the diamonds used for the anvil tended to fail. So they corrected it by clearing both diamonds of surface defects. In addition, they also cooled down the hydrogen to slow the diffusion process. Furthermore, they also added material that absorbed the free hydrogen. Shining lasers through the diamond triggered failures, thus they switched to other light sources to carry out their experiment.
Metallic Hydrogen Could Propel Our Space Dreams
According to a theory put forth by the duo, the newly created metallic hydrogen would be stable at room temperature. This means that if they were to take the pressure off, the substance would stay metallic.
Metallic hydrogen could also be used as a form of rocket fuel which is almost 4 times more potent than anything available today. As seen above, metallic hydrogen require an immense amount of pressure. Once created, if it can be converted back into molecular hydrogen, all that energy can be released, thus making it the most powerful rocket propellant known to man.
Convincing the skeptics and non-believers
Despite the exciting times we live in, metallic hydrogen has also been met with some dispute by scientists. According to them, the paper put forth by Professor Isaac Silvera and Dr. Ranga Dias holds nothing new in terms of technology. They also state that it needs more evidence to back it up.
Some scientists such as Alexander Goncharov of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC also say that the shiny material is not metallic hydrogen, but rather alumina or aluminium oxide. According to him, alumina, which coats the tips of the diamonds in the anvil, might have reacted to the pressure in the diamond anvil thus causing the shiny material.
The new find does pose its fair share of challenges and convincing of skeptics. But we’ve waited 80 years for this, I guess a couple of days more can’t hurt.
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