Lost the world’s only specimen of metallic hydrogen

Last month, scientists from Harvard University reported the discovery a “Holy Grail” of physics of solid bodies. They were able in the laboratory to produce hydrogen in the metal phase. Science tried unsuccessfully to do that for more than 80 years past. And, finally, success! Scientists not only were able to get the material, but also the first ever found a way to leave him for safekeeping. Unfortunately, to rejoice was early. Scientists report that the sample was recently lost.

The incident occurred February 11, when the scientists were preparing the sample for transport to Argonne national laboratory. The sample was stored at very low temperature and ultrahigh pressure for the further experiments. However, one of the checks the pressure using a low-power laser installation, something happened: one of the two diamonds of installation broke down and literally shattered into dust, Pogrebi a single sample of metallic hydrogen.

Study leader, Professor Isaac Silvera, more than 45 years of his life engaged in the study of metallic hydrogen, reports that scientists can’t say with certainty what fate befell the only received a sample.

“He’s lost. He either got lost somewhere among the dust of the destroyed diamond and is now at normal pressure, or even went back to a gaseous state. We don’t know”.

“Never seen anything like it. All of the installation surface coated this powder, similar to baking soda or something like that. I would not have believed that this diamond,” commented Professor silver.

Not necessarily that the sample was destroyed, but because its size is only about 1.5 micrometer and 10 micrometers (about 1/5 of the normal diameter of a human hair) to find it not possible. But that’s not all. The fact that after the destruction of the diamond and reducing the pressure in the installing the sample could turn back into gas. According to the theory, he still needs to maintain a stable condition, but if in fact it is not, then it is even more sad news.

Despite the very strong disappointment, the scientist reported that the team is now working to create a more durable diamond grip and hopes to create another sample of metallic hydrogen in the near future.

“We are preparing a new experiment and see if you can create the level of pressure that we have achieved for the first time and get another sample.”

Why is metallic hydrogen is so valuable? I think we all know that hydrogen is one of the most studied elements in the Universe, and in its natural state it definitely possesses a metallic phase. It is not shiny and does not conduct electricity. And again, in 1935, physicists have predicted that under certain conditions, hydrogen pressure may acquire metallic properties. Since then, science has repeatedly tried to obtain at least one sample of metallic hydrogen in laboratory conditions. But all attempts were in vain, as the possible success required the creation of conditions with strong pressure to ensure that the then level of technology was not. And so, last October, the Silver and his team finally managed to do it. Using the special diamond grip, scientists have found the long awaited sample. With increasing pressure within the system the researchers saw as a transparent gas in the installation, first darkened and then became shiny and had a metallic form.

The importance of the discovery is not only proof of the ability to make hydrogen a metal mold, but in the fact that such material could possess potentially very useful properties to become superconductors, capable of transferring charge without resistance. In addition, because it contains such an incredible amount of energy, it can be viewed as “the most powerful source for rocket fuel”.

Expecting the publication of his article in the journal Science last month, the researchers kept the sample of metallic hydrogen at very low temperature and pressure, we also ran some initial tests in the laboratory. One of the most important of them was to check his reflexion – one of the characteristics confirming its metallicity.

Using low-power laser system they measured the pressure at which metallic hydrogen has acquired the form. The results showed 495 HPa (about 4.9 million atmospheres), which is 4 million times the atmospheric pressure above sea level on the Earth and about 20 times greater than the initial assumptions, according to which it can be obtained.

However, many tests scientists simply do not have time. The sample was lost even before the article was in print. For example, researchers are unable to know whether the shape of the metallic hydrogen is liquid or solid. In addition, it was not proven whether he is able to conduct electricity, which is also one of the main characteristics for metals.

It is not surprising that among the scientific community there were those who acted with skepticism, and whether metallic hydrogen is created at all?

“I don’t think that this published article will be convincing to all,” said physicist Paul Lyuber of the French atomic energy Commission in Bruyère-Le-châtel, who do not participate in the discussed study, the journal Nature.

To further test for silver and his team planned to use the synchrotron at the Argonne national laboratory in the United States. However, prior to sending the sample they decided to use a low power red laser to check created inside the storage system pressure. But this time the energy created by the laser, is actually instantly destroyed the system. One of the diamonds setup literally crumbled to dust.

“These things have happened to other teams, but we thought that with our system all will be fine. We have experienced it in the past, but apparently, something with the time it changed. Perhaps in the diamond has any defect may cause is the diffusion of hydrogen. We do not know. Yes, and unlikely to already know”.

Silver is convinced that his team will be able to create new samples. And if not in the next experiments, at least in the near future. Scientists hope to repeat the process to have evil tongues did not remain at this time arguments.

“The disappearance of the sample says nothing. Anyone who works with high pressure, knows that such incidents can really happen from time to time. I am glad that we managed at least to test the reflectivity of the sample and this data is accurate,” comments silver.

“What happened cannot be called a step backwards. Just sorry we couldn’t spend more measurements of this sample. In science there will always be a bunch of skeptics in a particular question, but my advice to such people is always the same: try to conduct an experiment. We have already shown what kind of pressure we created to produce metallic hydrogen in the laboratory. So anyone having the same opportunity can try to do it yourself. That’s what I call the scientific method. And it’s much better than just complain about our results,” — said the scientist.

In the following experiments, the team will try to use different types of synthetic diamonds, which, it is hoped, will be more stable. In addition, it is planned to use more powerful cooling system. Bitter experience has shown that scheduled scans and experiments in such cases it is better to loose.

“It is possible that during long-term storage of such samples become less stable. So next time when using high pressure we get a new sample, then try to carry out all the important measurements as soon as possible,” said silver.