For years and years scientists have tried to make hydrogen exhibit metal properties, by experimentally proving what’s already been more or less acknowledged in theory. Hydrogen is an alkali metal, and under the right circumstances it can be fooled into becoming a metal. These “right” circumstances have yet to be found, until recently when a pair of scientists from the Max-Planck Institute in Germany has released a bold claim that they’ve indeed managed to achieve this extraordinary feat.
When you think of metal, one tends to image some kind of solid, shiny, electropositive material, generally a good conductor of electricity or heat, and of a certain malleability. How can you possibly make hydrogen act like anything stated earlier? Well, scientists have been slaving away trying to find the right pressure and temperature at which hydrogen should exhibit some kind of metallic quality, but so far Mikhail Erements and Ivan Troyan are the first to have reached them, according to a recently published paper in the journal Nature Materials.
Their procedure was the following: a sample of hydrogen in a alumina-epoxy gasket that they put inside of a diamond anvil cell, which they first compressed at a pressure of 220GPa (incredibly huge!). A highly calibrated laser then tested the material, which helped the researchers observed that the hydrogen sample began to cloud to the point of becoming opaque and that it could conduct electricity. They then increased the pressure to 260GPa, and also lowered the temperature at 30K, roughly -240 °C (the temperature at which most material become superconductors), and observed an electrical resistance increase of 20 percent. This is where they wrapped it up and concluded that in these circumstances hydrogen exhibits metal properties.
This claim hasn’t been left without echoes in the scientific community, however. Peer review will certainly soon enough jump at this and come with their own mind at what constitutes a metal. Then there’s also the issue of other researchers having to replicate Erements and Troyan’s experiment, and only after they also reach the same results, will their claim be considered as fact. What’s important, however, is that the two, peer reviewal and credits aside, have managed to make hydrogen conduct electricity at room temperature. Nevermind turning into a full pledged metal, this is enough to prove that the most aboundant element in the Universe might be the best superconductor scientists have been looking for all this while.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.