Reducing complex science is not an easy task. Yet there’s a new discovery that has so much potential that we all need to understand it. Welcome to the world of metallic hydrogen.
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This is exactly what it sounds like: hydrogen in a solid, metallic form. Two Harvard scientists have created a new form of hydrogen, and it may well alter how humans store energy.
The public found out about this amazing innovation in the latest volume of the journal Science. To make the new substance, the scientists pressurized hydrogen. The exposed their sample to more pounds per square inch than is currently residing at the core of our planet. The molecules then left their solid state and reformed into an atomic-solid form of hydrogen.
The real potential for this new material is space travel. Currently, we mix liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen to power our rockets. This new substance is thought to be “metastable” a term that means it will stay in that form indefinably.
Isaac Silvera, the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences at Harvard University, told Inverse, “People at NASA or the Air Force have told me that if they could get an increase from 450 seconds [of specific impulse] to 500 seconds, that would have a huge impact on rocketry. If you can trigger metallic hydrogen to recover to the molecular phase, [the energy release] calculated for that is 1700 seconds.”
In other words, this new material might provide almost four times the energy.
With metallic hydrogen, we could have the potential to achieve orbit with a single stage rocket and even travel to the outer planets in our solar system.
The development is in its infancy. Practical applications are still decades away. The amount of atomic hydrogen created now is infinitesimally small. It will need to be produced in vast quantities to live up to the promise of space travel.
The substance is also thought to be a superconductor, even at room temperature (something that currently exists in no other form). So it may change the way we live on earth, too.
And there are likely implications for weaponry, as well. This compressed material with dramatically increased energy release would be appealing to those interested in keeping America’s nuclear arsenal ahead of the competition’s.