For over 80 years, scientists all round the world have dreamt of converting hydrogen, the first element of the periodic table, into a metal. And now, after hundreds of failed attempts in the history, scientists from U.S. have finally managed the feat by compressing hydrogen so profoundly that it has turned into a metal!
Back in 1935, physicists Hillard Bell Huntington and Eugene Wigner proposed a theory that hydrogen, which normally exists in a gaseous state, could transform into metallic state once exposed to extreme pressure. Since then many scientists have tried to practically prove the theory — albeit unsuccessfully. However, this discovery, which was published in the journal ‘Science’ on Thursday, is the first confirmation of the theory.
The metallic hydrogen is a potential superconductor, a material with extraordinary electricity conducting capabilities, a quality which makes it a very expensive metal. But it holds the ability of revolutionizing the world of ultra fast super computers, high speed levitation trains, or any other thing which involves conduction of electricity.
The handling of such superconductors is also very expensive and the ones being used today in magnetic resonance imaging (or MRI machines) must be kept at a very low temperature and cooled with liquid helium.
Harvard Isaac Silvera, one of the authors of the study said:
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.
In order to achieve this milestone, Silvera along with his post-doctoral fellow Ranga Dias compressed a small sample of hydrogen at above 71.7 million pounds per square inch (32.5 million kg per 6.5 square cm) pressure. That pressure — to put things in perspective — is even greater than the one exerted at the center of the earth.
A device called as diamond anvil cell, which is comprised of synthetic diamonds mounted opposite to each other, was used by the scientists for creating the required pressure. The diamonds were treated with extra care to prevent them from cracking, a problem that has ruined many experiments.
Many experts still believe that the Harvard physicists have made some mistake in believing that they have succeeded in converting hydrogen into a metal. However, if the claim turns out to be true, it will be a great scientific breakthrough.
David Ceperley, a physics professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign says;
This is just at the point when the diamonds are about to crack. That is why it’s taken so long. Silvera had new ways of shaping the diamonds and polishing them so they wouldn’t break.
If the Hydrogen maintains its superconductor properties, at the room temperature, this discovery could well prove to be one of the very finest — and dare we say, noble? — discoveries of the decade.