Scientists achieved the “holy grail of high-pressure physics” last month, when physicists from Harvard University claimed they’d successfully turned hydrogen into a metal – something researchers had been struggling to achieve for more than 80 years.
And not only had they made the material, but they were also the first to stably keep it in the lab, making it the only sample of metallic hydrogen anywhere on Earth. But now the team has bad news – the sample has disappeared.
The metallic hydrogen was being stored at temperatures around 80 Kelvin (-193 degrees Celsius and -316 degrees Fahrenheit), and at incredibly high pressures between two diamonds in a type of vice.
But further testing around a week ago caused the diamonds to break and the vice to fail, and the researchers haven’t been able to find a trace of the metallic hydrogen since.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been destroyed – the sample was only around 1.5 micrometres thick, and 10 micrometres in diameter – a fifth the diameter of a strand of human hair – so it’s possible it’s stable somewhere and missing.
But it’s also a possibility that, once the pressure of the diamond vice broke, the hydrogen dissipated back into a gas, which suggests that the material isn’t stable at room pressure – one of the material’s predicted properties.
Team leader Isaac F. Silvera, who has spent more than 45 years working on metallic hydrogen, said for now they can’t speculate on the fate of the sample.
“Basically, it’s disappeared,” he told ScienceAlert over the phone. “It’s either someplace at room pressure, very small, or it just turned back into a gas. We don’t know.”Click here for reuse options!
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