For 80 long years, scientists have attempted in vain to produce a metal from hydrogen. A super substance thought to be present on other planets, metallic hydrogen could generate a rocket propellant around four times more powerful than what we possess now, allowing us to make advanced technologies like super-fast computers. Now two scientists at Harvard University say they have achieved the near miraculous. But other scientists are skeptical – the sensational discovery may just be too good to be true.

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Ranga Dias and Isaac Silvera of Harvard University say they’ve been able to create metallic hydrogen in the laboratory by squeezing hydrogen between diamonds inside a cryostat, at a pressure even greater than that at the Earth’s center. The journal Science published their astonishing findings this week. In a Harvard press release, Silvera said, “This is the Holy Grail of high-pressure physics. It’s the first-ever sample of metallic hydrogen on Earth, so when you’re looking at it, you’re looking at something that’s never existed before.”

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But other scientists aren’t so sure. A string of failed tries, from scientists around the world, precede the Harvard news. One physicist from France’s Atomic Energy Commission even said, “I don’t think the paper is convincing at all.” The Harvard scientists maintain they were able to polish the diamonds better, to remove any potentially damaging irregularities, and were able to crush the hydrogen gas at pressures greater than others have. Silvera said they produced a “lustry, reflective sample, which you can only believe is a metal.”

But that shiny substance could be nothing more than alumina (aluminium oxide), according to geophysicist Alexander Goncharov from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. That material coats the diamonds’ tips, and could act differently under the pressure.

Silvera said they wanted to break the news before starting confirmation tests, which could ruin their sample. Now that their paper is out, they plan to perform more experiments. Stay tuned.

Via Scientific American and The Independent

Images via screenshot and Isaac Silvera/Harvard University