Metallic Hydrogen – Wonder of the Future?
Sri Lanka is famous and infamous for many things but it’s not every day that a Sri Lankan is at the cutting edge of world altering discoveries and Dr Ranga Dias, a Sri Lankan Extreme Condensed Matter Physicist at Harvard University, is doing just that. He and his partner, Professor Isaac Silvera, have for the very first time in history, managed to create metallic hydrogen in the laboratory. It might not sound like much to the uninitiated but the achievement is akin to discovering the Holy Grail in the specialised science of extreme condensed matter physics and possibly one of the most significant achievements in science, this generation.
The possible positive industrial, commercial and military uses for metallic hydrogen are dizzying to imagine. Everything from supercomputing to magnetically levitated transportation could become easily achievable with metallic hydrogen. Used as a fuel source, metallic hydrogen could bring the greater dreams of mankind, such as deep space exploration, within easy reach. But let’s not get too dreamy eyed just yet.
The duo at Harvard didn’t discover metallic hydrogen out of the blue or on holiday, by accident. No, metallic hydrogen is a form of degenerate matter and a phase of elemental hydrogen that behaves like an electrical conductor. The existence of the phase was first predicted in 1935 and since then scientists have been trying to create and study it in the laboratory but none were successful until Dr Ranga Dias and Professor Isaac Silvera.
The small amount of metallic hydrogen that was created in the laboratory was done so at pressures which are difficult for ordinary people to conceive. Liquid hydrogen was placed in a diamond anvil cell and pressure was applied. Somewhere between 465 and 495 Giga-Pascals of pressure, metallic hydrogen was created. To better illustrate the extent of the pressure required, think of the centre of the earth, all of the earth exerting pressure on that spot due to the earth’s gravity. Ok? Well, this is much more than that, about 10,000 atmospheres of pressure.
Obviously, creating metallic hydrogen was no small task but there’s still more work to be done. They still have to prove their hypothesis that metallic hydrogen will remain stable at ordinary temperatures and pressures. If proven correct and metallic hydrogen is stable at room temperature, then the implications are astronomical, literally. As rocket fuel, metallic hydrogen would be 4 times more powerful than the best stuff we have today. Space travel and transportation in general would be revolutionized.
Proving that metallic hydrogen is stable at normal atmospheric temperatures and pressures would make this one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the age and the duo are working hard toward that end. Still, even if they aren’t able to prove its stability, the actual creation of metallic hydrogen in the laboratory is certainly one of the great scientific achievements of our time and is sure to, at the very least, lead to greater things. But we do sincerely hope it works out and that we can all blast off into space ourselves, soon.
Check out this cool video about metallic hydrogen from Harvard University, featuring the ‘Discovering Duo’ themselves.
Let us know what you think and what your metallic hydrogen dreams are in the comments below. ☺