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A team of scientists say they have successfully turned hydrogen into a metal, potentially confirming a prediction made 80 years ago.
In 1935, scientists predicted that the element hydrogen could become a metal if subjected to enough pressure. Teams have been attempting to confirm the prediction ever since, but have not been able to construct a vise capable of squeezing the element enough without breaking the equipment.
But a team of scientists at Harvard University published a paper this week in the peer-reviewed journal Science saying they managed to squeeze hydrogen in a diamond vise to the point that the element became reflective, a key property of metals.
The study is not merely a parlor trick. Metallic hydrogen is thought to be a superconductor, meaning it could conduct electricity without any resistance. Electricity traveling through normal circuits loses energy to resistance overtime, often in the form of heat. This is why it is harder to send electrical currents (say, through the electricity grid) over long distances than short ones. But a current traveling through a superconducting material loses nearly zero energy.
Superconductive metals are used to make the magnets for devices such as hospital MRI machines and particle accelerators such as CERN. The trouble with many superconductors is that the materials now used need to be cooled to extremely low temperatures in order to work, which is expensive.
It is also possible that metallic hydrogen material may be "metastable," according to Science Magazine. This means that, once formed, it may retain its metallic properties even at normal temperatures and pressure levels, like diamonds. If so, it could conduct electricity at nearly 100 percent efficiency in normal conditions. Again, this could dramatically reduce the costs of transferring electrical currents, meaning more powerful and efficient electric motors, and a far more efficient electrical grid.
Scientists have been searching for such a material almost as long as they have known about superconductivity.
Of course, the study has its critics. Eugene Gregoryanz, a physicist at the University of Edinburgh, told Science Magazine he sees a several problems with the experiment's procedures.
"The word garbage cannot really describe it," said Gregoryanz, of the experiment.The video below, from Harvard, discusses the discovery in detail: