Picture Courtesy: Ranga Dias and Isaac F. Silvera

Scientists from Harvard University say they’ve ended an 80-year quest by compressing hydrogen into a potentially superconducting metal. Using a diamond-tipped anvil, the team squeezed a hydrogen gas sample to 71 million PSI, more than the pressure at the Earth’s core. It has long been thought that hydrogen could be compressed into a metallic form, where it could conduct electricity and possibly act as a superconductor. What’s more, it may remain “metastable” as a solid, even when cooled to room temperatures and pressures. If so, it could act as a superconductor without being chilled or compressed, resulting in cheap energy and new types of transportation.

Mike Desjarlais is the team’s leading theoretical physicist, and he commented, “The moment we got our first look at the data, we were very excited. After the first several experiments, we had begun to wonder if we would ever see it.”

However, other researchers are not convinced that the Harvard team saw hydrogen metal. Rather, they think that the team may have misjudged the pressure, and that the shiny material glimpsed could be alumina residue from the anvil’s diamonds. “I don’t think the paper is convincing at all,” French physicist Paul Loubeyre told Nature. “If they want to be convincing, they have to redo the measurement, really measuring the evolution of pressure.”

It’s something that researchers have been trying to prove for the last 80 years, and finally, scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have managed to do it.  It may sound like a theory that is too far-fetched to be true, but it certainly does work. The way in which was done was by taking an amount of deuterium (a hydrogen isotope) and using the machine to apply 3 million times the atmospheric pressure. Then, after just 200 nanoseconds, the liquid is transformed into metal.

For a long time, scientists have been using temperature to calculate the age of planets because they cool over time. However, now they know that hydrogen metallic-zation causes a rise in temperature, they can use this to produce more accurate results and is one reason why Saturn is a great deal warmer than its calculated age suggests.