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Researchers squeeze hydrogen into 'metallic state'

The element's atoms began to separate and each atom's electrons started behaving like the electrons of metal atoms.
By Brooks Hays   |   Jan. 8, 2016 at 10:01 AM

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Inside laboratories in Scotland, hydrogen has assumed a strange new state -- one only found naturally inside gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh pushed the element into the novel phase by subjecting it to intense pressure, 3.25 million times the pressure of Earth's atmosphere. Researchers call it the "metallic state."

Researchers described the feat in a new study, published this week in the journal Nature.

Hydrogen's metallic state was first theorized 80 years ago, but for the last four decades, physicists have tried and failed to prove its existence. Researchers were finally able to achieve the proper pressure using two diamonds.

"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," lead researcher Eugene Gregoryanz, an astrophysicist at Edinburgh, said in a press release. "Our study presents the first experimental evidence that hydrogen could behave as predicted, although at much higher pressures than previously thought."

The record-breaking pressure forced the hydrogen into a new solid phase -- dubbed phase V -- with unusual qualities. The element's atoms began to separate and each atom's electrons started behaving like the electrons of metal atoms.

But Gregoryanz and his colleagues say they've only just breached the low end of the phase, and that more pressure is needed to push hydrogen into a purer metallic state. He says their work will continue toward this end.

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