An international team of physicists has just announced that it has succeeded in making water metallic and conductive without resorting to pressures on the order of those found on giant planets in the Solar System, such as Jupiter. The study confirms that water can behave as a metallic conductor, just like copper or gold.
The specialists showed in a video the appearance for a few seconds of a metallic and gold phase in a film of water, on the surface of a liquid sodium-potassium alloy. The experiments were conducted at the Berlin Electron Storage Ring Society for Synchrotron Radiation (Bessy), a research center located in Berlin, Germany.
One quantum mechanism It is what allows this «transformation», almost typical of alchemists: by sufficiently compressing a sample of material, for example hydrogen, energy bands made up of electrons overlap, causing the material to become a metallic conductor.
According to a Article published in the journal Nature, the metallic behavior is obtained without the need to expose the material to extreme pressures typical of those prevailing in the center of the Earth, thanks to a device that combines the action of certain substances with alkali metals.
In almost normal conditions
The great innovation of this scientific work, beyond the visual impact of appreciating water in metallic form and with a golden hue, is to have managed to specify under almost normal conditions a transformation that was known to be possible in specific extreme pressure situations.
Consequently, the mechanism can open up a new field of applications in a wide range of specialties and disciplines, be it around industry and technology or basic science.
Under normal conditions of pressure and temperature, pure water is an almost perfect insulator, but it was believed that it could only behave as a conductive metal under maximum pressure.
These extreme characteristics can occur, for example, in certain regions of the planet Jupiter, but they cannot be obtained on the surface of the Earth. Through the indicated quantum process, physicists have achieved the same result on the surface of our planet.
Overcoming a double stumbling block
The pressures theoretically necessary to obtain metallic water are equivalent to values 50 million times higher than those obtained on the earth’s surface. How to overcome this obstacle and achieve the same effect with conventional pressure?
The specialists thought of using alkali metals, which easily release electrons, sodium and potassium. The problem is that reactions with water can become explosive, therefore there was another problem to overcome.
The ‘trick’ that made the researchers’ success possible was to use a sodium potassium alloy that is liquid at room temperature. In this way, it allows a kind of “drip” to be carried out.
By means of a specific device, under vacuum conditions and injecting water vapor, it was possible to form a film of condensed water a few molecules thick on the surface of the alloy drops.
The metallic phase was produced from the action of energy bands with electrons superimposed, the quantum process that gives water the character of metallic conductor.
Spectroscopic evidence for a gold-coloured metallic water solution. Mason, P.E., Schewe, H.C., Buttersack, T. et al. Nature (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03646-5
Video: a presentation of the experiments that led to the observation of metallic water under almost normal conditions. It all started with low temperature liquid ammonia. Credit: Thunderf00t.
Photo: the image shows a thin layer of water, golden and with metallic properties, on the surface of a liquid sodium and potassium alloy. Credit: Philip E. Mason.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.