Saturday February 04, 2017

Metallic hydrogen. Did it finally happen?

You're looking at two diamonds with a gasket, illuminated with green laser light. This is the apparatus used to squeeze hydrogen to ultra-high pressures. The hydrogen was transformed into metallic hydrogen, according to Harvard scientists.

You're looking at two diamonds with a gasket, illuminated with green laser light. This is the apparatus used to squeeze hydrogen to ultra-high pressures. The hydrogen was transformed into metallic hydrogen, according to Harvard scientists. (Ranga Dias and Isaac F. Silvera)

Listen 10:09

More than 80 years ago, physicists Eugene Wigner and Hillard Bell Huntington predicted that hydrogen gas could be turned into a metal, under the right conditions. 

For a  small community of scientists working in high-pressure physics, achieving that has been somewhat of a holy grail. 

It's no easy task: hydrogen gas has to be cooled to -433 degrees Fahrenheit, and squeezed under pressures that are far beyond those at the centre of the Earth.

If it's true, it's a major breakthrough in physics.  But the claim is not without controversy.

Dr. Isaac Silvera talks to Bob McDonald about his findings. Dr. Eugene Gregoryanz weighs in with his reservations about the research.  

metallic hydrogen

Photos of compressed hydrogen transitioning with increasing pressure from transparent molecular to black molecular to atomic metallic hydrogen. The sketches below show a molecular solid being compressed and then dissociated to atomic hydrogen. (Ranga Dias and Isaac F. Silvera)

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