The theory that hydrogen can switch to a solid instead of a gas or liquid has been roaming through scientific circles since it was first uttered back in 1935. But it was eventually deemed impossible at that time, due to our then current technological limitation. Fortunately, that is no longer the case, as a new hydrogen state of matter may be just around the corner, according to the findings of a team of researchers from the University of Edinburgh.
Hydrogen is the most common element in our universe, being found in just about anything, ranging from us humans and other animals to stars and planet structures. Because of its simple chemical structure, being comprised of one proton and one electron, hydrogen has been used in physics and quantum physics in order to apply various theories.
In nature, hydrogen is commonly found in its gaseous form, slightly lighter than air. If subjected to extremely low temperatures, it turns into a liquid form which is commonly used as jet or rocket fuel. On the other hand, if subjected to temperatures near the levels found on the surface of our Sun, the electrons get torn away from the protons, creating the ionized gas known as plasma.
But the theory which emerged in 1935 stated that if immense pressures are applied to two molecules of hydrogen, their covalent bonds will shatter completely, allowing the electrons to move freely, creating a solid and grayish material similar to metal. This metallic hydrogen has been sought after for almost 80 years up to this point, being considered as the holy grail of high-pressure physics.
The levels of pressure which were first taken into account 80 years ago have been long since passed by our current technology. The 25 gigapascals levels of pressure that were deemed unfathomable back then can be easily achieved in our current laboratories, with certain specialized facilities being able to pass the 700 mark.
The study which came up to the conclusion the metallic hydrogen may indeed be a reality applied a pressure force of 400 gigapascals on two molecules of hydrogen, This was achievable through the use of two specialized anvils tipped with brilliant-cut diamonds, similar to the ones seen in jewelry stores, with only one major difference. In order to precisely squeeze the two molecules toghether, the tips of the diamonds were cut to the size of 8 microns, or the width of a human hair or a red blood cell.
Even if the experiment was a complete success, with the two molecules starting to behave in a rather strange manner once the 400 gigapascal mark was reached, metallic hydrogen still required a bit more pressure to be applied. This will not be a problem, given our current technological level.
Metallic hydrogen is extremely important due to the fact that it is a superconductor and a superfluid while remaining at room temperature levels without overheating. Because of this, its applications in computer technology or other industries are immense. Its discovery will also shine a light on how hydrogen acts when subjected to various types of extreme environments present in our universe.
Taking into account the fact that a new hydrogen state of matter may be just around the corner, with the discovery of metallic hydrogen becoming a reality in the next couple of months, we can safely say that this year of 2016 has had an extremely beneficial start, in regards to scientific discovery. Only time will tell how metallic hydrogen will affect our lives once it becomes commercially available across the globe.