Scientists Say They Changed Hydrogen Into a Metal; Superconducting Might Get Way Easier

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it's not all that useful as a gas. Two scientists say they've coaxed it to become a metal, which could be used in ways that would radically change our lives.

Two scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany say they applied intense pressure and manipulated a few other conditions to transformed hydrogen into a metal. If their results, which they published in Nature Materials, can be reproduced it could lead to amazing things like super-efficient transportation systems, powerful medical devices, and major advances in computing.

To get the gas to act like a metal, they placed a tiny bit of hydrogen inside an alumina-epoxy gasket, and then applied extreme pressure using a diamond anvil cell.

From PopSci:

...at room temperature, they dialed the pressure up to 220 gigapascals, at which point their sample became opaque and began to show conductive properties. In the next phase of their experiment, they also dialed down the temperature to roughly -400 degrees while upping the pressure to 260 GPa. Here, electrical resistance increased by 20 percent.

Scientists assume the transformation of hydrogen gas to metal is possible because the Sun and planets like Jupiter and Saturn have metallic hydrogen at their core. Still, a fair amount of skepticism surrounds the experiment—it's to be expected when so many have tried and failed for so long. Plus scientists are inherently a skeptical bunch.

But if the results can be replicated, it might bring us one step closer to room temperature superconductors, suggests the Royal Society of Chemistry. Superconductors usually require extremely cold temperatures. They have zero electrical resistance, so energy travels through them super fast. They're used in MRI machines, mass spectrometers, and the beam-steering magnets inside particle accelerators. The easier it is to achieve superconductivity, the more magical things we can do to it.

Plus, superconductors levitate, and there's no question we need more levitation in the world. [PopSci via Geekosystem]

Image: Shutterstock/fzd.it


You can keep up with our Science Editor, Kristen Philipkoski, on Twitter, Facebook, and occasionally Google+