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Harvard researchers may have made a significant advancement in high-pressure physics. Thomas D. Cabot, Professor of the Natural Sciences Isaac Silvera, and postdoctoral fellow Ranga Dias announced last week that they may have created atomic metallic hydrogen, a feat that has only been a theory before now.  If that sounds weird, it should. It literally has never existed on this planet before now. The atomic metallic hydrogen is theorized to have a wide range of applications, including as a room-temperature superconductor. You can read about the research right now in Science.

“This is the Holy Grail of high-pressure physics,” Silvera said. “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.”

So how can something like atomic metallic hydrogen be made? In their experiments, Silvera and Dias squeezed a tiny hydrogen sample at “495 gigapascal (GPa), or more than 71.7 million pounds per square inch.” In layman’s terms, really, really hard. That’s more pressure than what exists in the center of the Earth, hence why the scientists are confident the material does not exist anywhere on our big blue marble of a planet.

Microscopic images of the stages in the creation of atomic molecular hydrogen: Transparent molecular hydrogen (left) at about 200 GPa, which is converted into black molecular hydrogen, and finally reflective atomic metallic hydrogen at 495 GPa. Courtesy of Isaac Silvera

While the work creates a window into understanding the general properties of hydrogen better, the discovery also offers hints at some potentially revolutionary new materials.

“One prediction that’s very important is metallic hydrogen is predicted to be meta-stable,” Silvera said. “That means if you take the pressure off, it will stay metallic, similar to the way diamonds form from graphite under intense heat and pressure, but remain diamonds when that pressure and heat are removed.”

Knowing whether or not the material remains stable after pressure is released is vital because if it can, the metallic hydrogen could act as a superconductor at room temperature.

“As much as 15 percent of energy is lost to dissipation during transmission,” Silvera said, “so if you could make wires from this material and use them in the electrical grid, it could change that story.”

If the metallic hydrogen is able to act as a superconductor at room temperature, the application could be endless. We might even be one step closer to finally getting our hover boards. At the very least, it could make magnetic levitation of high-speed trains possible, or even making electric cars more efficient. The material could also provide “major improvements in energy production and storage.”

Probably the most exciting application would be traveling farther through space, for it has the potential to be used as a more powerful rocket propellant.

Of course more tests and peer reviews will have to be made, but this is a really exciting development!

Source: Harvard Gazette

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Christina E. Janke

Christina is the co-host of “Intro to Geek” on Shauncastic and Editor-in-Chief at Agents of Geek. Her love of all things Mass Effect knows no bounds. She also carries an obsession with comic books, video games, and quirky television shows. Her heroes are Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Gail Simone. She hopes to be just like them when she grows up.

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