Metallic hydrogen

Friday 10 February 2017

Back in 1989 Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons claimed to have achieved cold fusion. Cold fusion is the fusion of two small nuclei occurring at or near room temperature with the release of energy. Their reported experiment in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry involved electrolysing heavy water using a palladium electrode. Their report received an enormous amount of publicity at the time as, if true, it could potentially provide a plentiful and cheap source of energy.   However subsequent attempts to replicate the experiment proved unsuccessful and the claim by Fleischmann and Pons is now generally thought to be untrue.

Some people are now wondering whether a recent report which claims to have made metallic hydrogen for the first time will suffer a similar rejection by the scientific community.

In January this year (2017) Isaac Silvera and Ranga Dias from Harvard University reported that they had succeeded in making metallic hydrogen. This was achieved by compressing hydrogen gas using diamond anvils at an extremely high pressure of 495 GPa. In a rather similar way to the claims were put forward at the time as to how cold fusion would be of great benefit to society there are now claims that metallic hydrogen could theoretically revolutionise technology and also transform space exploration.

However an article in Chemistry World pulls together comments and objections from some of the leading researchers in the field who question the results of the Silvera and Dias experiment. Most of the objections centre around the the pressure of 495 GPa as such high pressures cause structural damage to the diamond anvil cells used in the experiment and it has even been suggested that the metallic properties reported may be due to the rhenium gasket used in the diamond anvil cells. Clearly what is needed now is for the experiment to be replicated by others before metallic hydrogen is accepted fully by the scientific community.


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