Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Overhyped 'Miracle' Metal Hydrogen Miraculously ‘Disappears'

Image: R. Dias and I.F. Silvera/Gizmodo

Lots of people went wild last month at the news that scientists had suddenly discovered some sort of physics holy grail: metallic hydrogen, hydrogen that turned into a metal. Gizmodo didn’t buy the hype. Well, according to ScienceAlert, that metal hydrogen sample has now disappeared.

Advertisement

Many scientists don’t believe metallic hydrogen was created to begin with. And yet, somehow, many of the same media outlets that reported this story credulously last month are now reporting that this possibly nonexistent jewel has mysteriously vanished.

Here’s a quick recap of what the Harvard scientists behind the hydrogen hullabaloo said they saw, in results published recently in the journal Science:

The observation was made by a team of Harvard researchers, while they were squeezing hydrogen between diamonds at temperatures just above absolute zero, 5.5 Kelvin or -450 degrees Fahrenheit. As the scientists cranked up the pressure, they observed transparent hydrogen turn black. Finally, at a pressure 5 million times our own air pressure, the hydrogen turned reflective. The researchers presented this as proof that the hydrogen atoms had arranged into a regular, 3D structure like a metal, a behavior first predicted by physicists Hillard Huntington and Eugene Wignerin in 1935.

Advertisement

As first reported last week, the team’s lead researcher, Isaac F. Silvera, told ScienceAlert that while testing the sample earlier this month, the diamonds holding it cracked. He told them the sample disappeared, because it was either very small, or had turned back to gas. 🤔

But other scientists don’t believe that Silvera’s team had put forth sufficient evidence that they’d created metallic hydrogen at all.

“Maybe they had something in the first place,” Alexander Goncharov, staff scientist at the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington DC, told Gizmodo, “but it wasn’t metallic hydrogen.”

Advertisement

Goncharov and others have written several responses to Silvera’s paper. In one, Goncharov says the results don’t match the conclusion—the researchers saw a shiny material in the cell, but didn’t track whether there was actually hydrogen present the whole time. “How do they know they actually had hydrogen at the time [during the experiment],” he asked me. “Hydrogen can escape at any pressure. Based on their photographs, I cannot say that” there was any hydrogen in the diamond vice.

Advertisement

Even Mikhail Eremets at the Max-Planck-Institut fur Chemie in Germany, who previously claimed to have created metallic hydrogen, took issue with Silvera’s paper. Eremets thought that the Harvard researchers’ pressure measurements were unreliable. Plus, even non-metallic hydrogen would reflect well at high pressures, he wrote.

I will not outright say that Silvera’s lab didn’t create metallic hydrogen, because we simply don’t know. I will say that plenty of scientists were not convinced by his paper—and a disappearing sample in the face of so much dissent would certainly be a convenient excuse to try your experiment again under less scrutiny.

Advertisement

I have reached out to Silvera for comment and will update the post if and when I hear back.

Science Writer, Founder of Birdmodo

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

dubayateeeff
DubayaTeeEff

Let me preface this by saying I’m a regular ass guy who works on experiments in the field of quantum phase transitions. I’m pretty sure this is linked to my gmail. Yall can look me up.

1. Experiments are fucking hard. Things break all the time. If they were compressing ANYTHING that hard it’s not surprising if it broke. Even diamond. I have scratched things harder than diamond by dropping them.

2. Helium is small. It’s not as small as hydrogen, but the vacuum in my experiment is limited by how much hydrogen leaks directly THROUGH the bulk glass in my windows.

3. When it’s not a metal, Helium at high pressure and temperature is a supuerfluid. Which means if it found a way to leak out, it’ll go right out in no time flat.

4. The experts in the field weren’t doubting the measurements. They were doubting the measurements constituted a metal. It has a strict definition. Reflecting light is a good indication you’ve got a metal.

When I first heard about this experiment, my first reaction was ‘bullshit’. But this setback in NO WAY constitutes an argument against their results. Give them two years. If they can’t reproduce it, then we have to decide “Almost certainly bullshit.”