Research Article

Observation of the Wigner-Huntington transition to metallic hydrogen

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Science  17 Feb 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6326, pp. 715-718
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal1579

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Stamping hydrogen into metal

In 1935, Wigner and Huntington predicted that molecular hydrogen would become an atomic metal at a pressure of 25 GPa. Eighty years and more than 400 GPa later, Dias and Silvera have finally produced metallic hydrogen at low temperature. The metallization occurred between 465 and nearly 500 GPa at 5.5 K. Spectroscopic measurements verified that hydrogen was in the atomic state. The observation completes an unexpectedly long quest to find the metallic hydrogen that Wigner and Huntington predicted so long ago.

Science, this issue p. 715


Producing metallic hydrogen has been a great challenge in condensed matter physics. Metallic hydrogen may be a room-temperature superconductor and metastable when the pressure is released and could have an important impact on energy and rocketry. We have studied solid molecular hydrogen under pressure at low temperatures. At a pressure of 495 gigapascals, hydrogen becomes metallic, with reflectivity as high as 0.91. We fit the reflectance using a Drude free-electron model to determine the plasma frequency of 32.5 ± 2.1 electron volts at a temperature of 5.5 kelvin, with a corresponding electron carrier density of 7.7 ± 1.1 × 1023 particles per cubic centimeter, which is consistent with theoretical estimates of the atomic density. The properties are those of an atomic metal. We have produced the Wigner-Huntington dissociative transition to atomic metallic hydrogen in the laboratory.

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