Metallic hydrogen

It’s been 82 years in the making but metallic hydrogen is now a reality. The theory that solid hydrogen molecules could be transformed into a metal was first made in 1935 but it has now been finally achieved. Professors at Harvard University exposed a tiny amount of liquid hydrogen to extreme pressure at temperatures of -269 degrees Celsius from two small synthetic diamonds. The hydrogen was exposed to greater pressures than what happens at the centre of the Earth! This broke the molecules as they became incredibly tightly packed. In turn this created a crystal lattice that encouraged electrons to be shared between the atoms and a transformation into a metallic state occurred. Known as atomic hydrogen, it was shiny rather than transparent and one of its key properties that it is extremely conductive to electricity.

It’s still very early days but the creation of what is the first ever-metallic hydrogen on Earth is very exciting. It could be used as a room-temperature superconductor, increasing the efficiency of wires in the national grid. Other potential uses that have been theorised are effective maglev systems for high-speed trains, superfast computers, longer lasting and better performing electronic devices and significantly extending electric car range. Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that it could be used as rocket fuel for new and improved space launches. Despite the excitement, some still hold reservations. Only a tiny amount of metal was created plus it still hasn’t been proved whether the metallic hydrogen could be stable at normal temperatures and pressures. The sample itself is still held within the two diamonds in the conditions in which it was created. If the hydrogen can be released from its chamber successfully, that’s when it could become a game-changer for humanity.

For more game-changing technology, including a feature on quantum power, pick up issue 95 of How It Works. It’s available from all good retailers, or you can order it online from the ImagineShop. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works, make sure you subscribe today!

How it Works issue 95 preview