“Holy Grail” Metallic Hydrogen Is Going to Change Everything
Two Harvard scientists have succeeded in creating an entirely new material long thought to be the “holy grail” of physics — metallic hydrogen, a substance of unparalleled energy that could one day propel people into deep space.
This broke down the molecule from its solid state and enabled the particles to dissociate into atomic hydrogen.
The ideal rocket fuel we now have is liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, burnt for propellant. The efficacy of these substances is characterized by “specific impulse,” the measure of impulse gas may give a rocket to propel it forward.
“People at NASA or the Air Force have advised me that if they could find an increase from 450 seconds [of particular impulse] to 500 minutes, which would have a enormous effect on rocketry,” Isaac Silvera, the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences at Harvard University, told Inverse by telephone. “If you are able to activate metallic hydrogen to recover to the molecular stage, [the energy release] calculated for that’s 1700 seconds.”
Metallic hydrogen could potentially enable rockets to get into orbit in one point, even allowing individuals to explore the outer planets. Metallic hydrogen is called to be “metastable” — meaning if you make it in a really significant pressure then release it, it is going to remain at that pressure. A diamond, for instance, is a metastable form of graphite. If you choose graphite, pressurize it, then heat it, it will become a diamond; should you take off the pressure, it is still a diamond. But if you heat it again, it is going to revert back to graphite.
Scientists first theorized atomic rust a century ago. Silvera, who created the material together with post-doctoral fellow Ranga Dias, was pursuing it since 1982 and working as a professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam.
Metallic hydrogen has also been called to be a high- or maybe room-temperature superconductor. There are no other known room-temperature superconductors in existence, meaning the software are immense — particularly for the electrical grid, that suffers for energy lost through heat dissipation.
It might also facilitate magnetic levitation for autonomous high-speed trains; considerably improve performance of electrical cars; and reevaluate the way energy is generated and stored.
But that is all still likely a few decades off. The next step concerning practical application is to find out if metallic hydrogen is really meta-stable. If the substance does prove to be meta-stable, it may be used to make room-temperature crystal clear and — by spraying atomic hydrogen on the surface –use it like a seed to grow longer, how synthetic diamonds are created.