Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Metallic Hydrogen

A possible way to make it in quantity
  [vote for,

Compress the hydrogen to some decent level. PERHAPS a diamond anvil pressure cell will not be needed (can only sqeeze a small quanitity with one of those!). When the hydrogen is compressed sufficiently, zap it with a laser, at a frequency specially tuned to momentarily ionize some of the hydrogen. At the main ultraviolet Lyman line, I think (but this may be a different value for pressurized hydrogen). The absorption of that ultraviolet, and the forced breaking of molecular bonds, offers the chance that when the bonds reform, metallic hydrogen will be produced, as being the lowest-energy-state available, in this highly pressurized scenario. The pressure should actually be relieved some, by the formation of the metallic hydrogen. So, increase the pressure again, and zap it again, and so on.

Background and Details:
Many of the chemical elements can exist in more than one pure form. A classic example is carbon, which manages to have an actual list of different forms: amorphous, graphite, diamond, buckminsterfullerenes, and nanotubes. I won't promise that this list is complete, or will never be extended, because carbon has proved to be so versatile! Anyway, each such differing form of a pure element is called an "allotrope". Oxygen and Ozone are allotropes of that element. Sulfur is normally found in a powdered-crystalline form, but can also exist in an allotrope that is actually somewhat rubbery in properties ("rubber sulfur" it is indeed called). Tin is normally metallic, but if the temperature is cold enough, it turns into a non-metallic powdery form (there is a tale about this happening to some statue in Russia one winter -- it disintegrated -- a century or two ago). Anyway, this Idea concerns ordinary elemental hydrogen, normally gaseous, which has been theorized to be able to exist in a metallic form. (Carbon, too, may have a metallic form -- what'd I tell you!?)

Theory indicated that very great pressure could force hydrogen to become a metallic allotrope, and the theory was somewhat verified in the laboratory about a decade ago. The electrical properties of hydrogen do indeed become indicative of a metallic state, under appropriate high-pressure conditions. However, those experiments destroyed the samples just as fast as they were created, so no long-term study was possible. A big question, then, concerns what happens when metallic hydrogen is created and the pressure is gently eased. Will the hydrogen revert back to a gas? Will it stay stable, and turn out to be a useful material? (I wonder about the effects of oxygen-corrosion, though!)

Anyway, before we can answer that question, we first must be able to make some metallic hydrogen that can be studied for a decent amount of time. If it explodes upon release of the pressure, then that is answer enough -- but then it may prove to be useful in bombs! So, this Idea is about making suitable quantities of metallic hydrogen, first for the purpose of study, and then, if the stuff is stable, especially at ordinary temperatures, for lots of other purposes later. For example, it has been suggested that metallic hydrogen could be a suitable material for building a classic Space Elevator, due to its extreme light-weight-ness. Even if only one-tenth as strong as carbon fibers, at the atomic level it weighs 1/12 as much, and therefore could have a superior strength-to-weight ratio...

The standard notion for squishing hydrogen into a metal is exactly and simply that: Just pile on the pressure until the intermolecular and/or interatomic chemical bonds give way, after which they should naturally reform into the kind of bonds typical of metals. This is a brute-force and inefficient approach (but it is known able to convert graphite into diamonds, when heat is added). This approach requires something with interatomic and/or intermolecular chemical bonds that are stronger than hydrogen, just for starters. This is where the "diamond anvil pressure cell" comes into the scene. A remarkably small gadget, the tips of two "brilliant cut" diamonds are sawed off, and the just-created flat faces of those diamonds are used as the squeezing zone. The tiny sample to be compressed is placed between the two diamonds, and then the thumbscrews are turned...(well, maybe not old-fashioned torture-chamber thumbscrews). One of the neat things about this type of pressure cell is that diamonds are transparent, allowing close examination (usually via laser beam) of the sample being squeezed. OK, it happened that while I was refreshing my memory about metallic hydrogen experiments, I came across a notation to the effect that one of the failure modes encountered by experimenters is that the hydrogen has a tendency to seep into the diamond! Obviously, there is a problem with this brute-force approach, to break hydrogen's bonds.

Well, there are other ways to break intermolecular and/or interatomic chemical bonds. The whole science of spectroscopy is based on measuring the energy (particularly in the form of photons) that is associated with the breaking and/or formation of such bonds (and intra-atomic bonds, too!). We KNOW exactly how much photonic energy is needed to break up hydrogen bonds, hydrogen molecules, and hydrogen atoms. More, there is a "resonance" phenomenon involved here, where atoms and molecules are naturally susceptable to absorbing those precise quantities of photonic energy -- and then breaking apart! (UV photons of main Lyman line, mentioned earlier, can directly ionize a plain/quiet hydrogen atom.) Finally, the development of lasers has reached the point where we can specify just about any frequency/energy of photon that we want to generate. If we can use lasers to separate isotopes of uranium (very similar spectra they have), then we can use lasers to break up intermolecular and/or interatomic hydrogen bonds, inside a pressure chamber -- and in significant quantities.

So, suppose we create a nice ordinary pressure chamber, something on the order of the things being used today to make synthetic gem-quality diamonds, and put a nice ordinary sort of extreme squeeze on some hydrogen. One possibility that I have wondered about, over the years, is the idea of putting pressure chambers inside other pressure chambers. Each one only has to withstand the difference between its inside and outside pressures. Anyway, we shine some specially tuned laser beams into the highly pressurized hydrogen, knowing that various bonds WILL break and reform. Will they reform as metallic hydrogen? Maybe, maybe not. But certainly it's worth finding out. This is where what I wrote in the Synopsis, about the "lowest energy state", becomes a factor. The existing theory is that if hydrogen's ordinary bonds are broken by squishing, then their only reformation option is the metallic state. However, that theory also indicates a temperature/pressure Zone for the existence of metallic hydrogen, and I am counting on it to allow the stuff to form with less squishing, provided that some other means exists to break hydrogen's ordinary bonds.

Finally, if we find ourselves needing the extreme pressures that only the diamond anvil cell can provide, in addition to lasers, well, that option will still be available (only tiny quantities of metallic hydrogen could be produced in that case, though, not enough for wide use, but at least enough for learning all about the stuff).

Vernon, Sep 11 2003

First Laboratory Preparation http://www-phys.lln..._Div/GG/Nellis.html
All we want to know is if this stuff stays stable when the pressure is released. [Vernon, Oct 17 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Tunable Lasers http://www.the-scie...man_p26_880530.html
Pick a photonic frequency.... [Vernon, Oct 17 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Making Gem Quality Diamonds http://www.wired.co.../11.09/diamond.html
They finally got pressures good enough for this [Vernon, Oct 17 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Rubber Sulfur http://www.oup-usa.org/pdh/PDH-275.PDF
OK, sorry, I guess "rubber sulfur" isn't a popular name as I thought. [Vernon, Oct 17 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Diamond Anvil Pressure Cell http://nvl.nist.gov...58-lide/100-103.pdf
And people think diamonds are just for show! (The big round thing in the picture is the head of a screw, to be turned with the fingertips. I said these things were remarkably small! [Vernon, Oct 17 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

All About Spectroscopy http://www.woodrow....chem1/Chapter4.html
Probably a lot more than you feel like looking up :) [Vernon, Oct 17 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Phases of carbon http://www.ch.ic.ac...ml/diamond_text.htm
Phase diagram is about 1/3 down the page. At low pressures (bottom of graph) graphite is stable and diamond meta-stable. [kbecker, Oct 17 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]


       Is this a theory?
pluterday, Sep 11 2003

       Not sure where he's going with this. Metallic hydrogen does exist, at least theoretically. It is believed to make up most of Jupiter, below the cloud layers.
waugsqueke, Sep 11 2003

       Haven't had one from big Ver in a while. Glad to see you haven't lost your knack for brevity Vernon.
I have no idea whether this is na idea or not. I gave up the will to live about half way down. Sorry.
goff, Sep 12 2003

       It’s an experiment, not an invention. I’m pro-experiment, but not here.
Shz, Sep 12 2003

       I'm not a chemist, but I made an effort to read through to the bottom of this one!   

       If you break the atomic bonds between molecules of H2 to form free-floating H atoms, how would you stop them bonding with other elements in the pressure chamber? What would you use to create the pressure?   

       My understanding of this is that you are saying use lasers to break down the molecular bonds between H atoms and see how they reconstruct themselves. Correct?
PeterSilly, Sep 12 2003

       Kreuner, metallic hydrogen would not stay metallic if the temperature is raised too high. Did you know that if you heat up a diamond sufficiently in the absence of oxygen, the diamond turns into graphite? It does! (With oxygen present, the diamond burns like coal.) So, metallic hydrogen would probably sublime directly into hydrogen gas, perhaps explosively. What I wrote before, about whether or not metallic hydrogen would be stable at room temperature, is directly related to this question. Perhaps I should have mentioned in the main text that previous experiments have worked with pressurized and VERY COLD solid or liquid hydrogen....   

       PeterSilly, yes, I can see that there could be a problem with hydrogen reacting with the pressure vessel. But this is not a given. Consider a pressure vessel made of synthetic sapphire -- aluminum oxide, that is. Aluminum is more reactive than hydrogen, so it will retain it connections to the oxygen, and the broken-down hydrogen will have nothing to latch onto -- except for other broken hydrogens.
Vernon, Sep 12 2003

       "Russian doll" pressure chambers to achieve very high pressures: nice.   

       Specifically tuned lasers to achieve phase shifts of pressurized items. Apparently this isn't done now? This seems like a testable idea, in some circumstance where the hoped for end product is not the Loch Ness Monster of materials. It seems to me that in one of those substances where high pressure/heat is used to create phase shifts, the addition of a tuned laser might allow the phase shift to occur without requiring as much pressure/heat - acting as a catalyst. Once the process is figured out, it could be applied to other substances.   

       I like the abstract. Re the wordy explanation - your prose is not bad, just wordy. It flows. Keep doing what you do.
bungston, Sep 12 2003

       < Did you know that if you heat up a diamond sufficiently in the absence of oxygen, the diamond turns into graphite? It does! (With oxygen present, the diamond burns like coal.) >

Is this covered in one of your links Vernon?
If not, would you mind telling me how to find one?

       [2 fries], Vernon is probably too busy making cheap gold from lead so I took the liberty of adding a link (see Phases of carbon). Looks like diamond is only stable at high pressure. At room temperature and sealevel it is metastable, but around 1500K the atoms have enough energy to break loose and make graphite.
kbecker, Sep 12 2003

       Thank you. Here's a question, would a large diamond meteorite entirely burn up entering our atmosphere, or would the temperature not be great enough?   

       fry fry, there were a great deal of diamonds found at the site of the Tunguska explosion.
waugsqueke, Sep 13 2003

       waugsqueke, don't assume those Tunguska diamonds arrived with the meteor/comet. They may have been formed during the explosion.
Vernon, Sep 13 2003

       So would it be possible for a diamond to fall from space and not burn up in the atmosphere or is it dependent on pressure?   

       I would generally expect a diamond from space to burn up in the atmosphere, simply because a diamond is made of carbon, and the atmosphere is 20% oxygen. But do note that terrestrial diamonds are generally surrounded by rock, so if such was true of a space diamond, it might survive, after all (but it might arrive as graphite, instead)..   

       Getting back to metallic hydrogen, it is theorized to also have a metastable zone, such that it may be reasonably stable at ordinary temperatures and pressures. We only have to make a small amount to find out how true that is, of course. IF true, then there will be uses such that large-scale production methods will be sought. For example, the biggest problem with hydrogen-fueled vehicles is carrying the gas on-board: It is so bulky that excessively large tanks have to be installed, for the vehicles to get a decent travel range. Metallic hydrogen will be significantly denser than pressurized or liquid hydrogen, and so a container for this stuff would be reasonable-sized. To extract gas for fuel, just zap its surface with a laser pulse...
Vernon, Sep 13 2003

       // don't assume those Tunguska diamonds arrived with the meteor/comet. They may have been formed during the explosion. //   

       I didn't assume that. The main theory has always been that the diamonds were created during whatever happened there.
waugsqueke, Sep 13 2003

       Kinda long.
DesertFox, May 06 2004

       Said "hydrogen" too much.
eyeguy, May 07 2004


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