METALLIC HYDROGEN, AND REALLY HIGH OCTANE SPECULATIONSSeptember 21, 2020
Ever heard of metallic hydrogen? Maybe not, but according to an article shared by K.M., it may be here. And it occasions today's daily dose of (really) high octane speculation. But first, let's gather our chairs for a moment, and figure out why scientists would be toying with the idea that there is even such a thing as metallic hydrogen. After all, hydrogen is the first, and lightest, element, and as such, is a gas, and a really "empty" one at that, with a single proton in the nucleus, and a single electron, if we're following the "tiny-billiard ball" theory of particle physics. It'll have to do for now, otherwise, this blog will become needlessly (and perhaps humorously) complicated real fast. There are, of course, isotopes of hydrogen, such as deuterium(a rare isotope), with one proton plus one neutron in the nucleus, and tritium (even rarer) with one proton and two neutrons. With the extra neutron in deuterium, it's roughly two times the mass of ordinary hydrogen, and by parity of reasoning, tritium is roughly three times as heavy. And, if you've been following the nuclear weapons history, deuterium and tritium are the isotopes used in boosted fission weapons, and of course, in the much more powerful hydrogen fusion bombs.
But a metal? How does that work? Well as the article below points out, scientists have long suspected that hydrogen (along with its isotopes) might exist in the cores of stars of simply due to the massive pressures it's under. It's literally being squeezed into a metallic form by that pressure, and that of course raises the possibility that in boosted fission and fusion bombs, for a brief moment, hydrogen is similarly compressed to a metallic form in the center of the implosion device that typically forms the detonator for an atomic bomb, and then ripped apart, with the lattice structure of the metallic form perhaps contributing to the yield of the device. It's a form of mechanical compression reliant on extremes of radioactive pressure. And yes, that's the beginning of today's (really extremely) high octane speculation. And with that, here's the article:
What intrigues me in this article is the claim as to how the metallic hydrogen is claimed to have been made, and note, I say claimed to have been made because of course time will tell if indeed it has really successfully been done. However, for the sake of today's (really extremely) high octane speculation, we'll assume it has:
Now, Loubeyre is leading the French team making the claim of metallic hydrogen.
The group used what are known as diamond anvil cells (DACs), machines compromised to two diamonds to create tremendous pressure. The diamond tips of the DACs used by Loubeyre's team were toroidal, a new design developed in 2018 that allowed for greater high-pressure limits.
After placing a small amount of hydrogen into a toroidal DAC, the group further added pressure and began to analyze how the sample reacted to absorbed infrared radiation produced by what's known as the SOLEIL synchrotron, a particle accelerator that creates synchrotron radiation, a very powerful form of light.
Of interest here is not just the claim to have made metallic hydrogen, but the technology behind it: a kind of toroidal diamond "press", a "diamond anvil cell" (DAC). And equally, there's a question this poses: if diamonds are used to create enough pressure to create the compression of hydrogen to metallic form, why did it take so long to hit upon the idea? Indeed, an investigation of high pressure presses such as this indicate the idea has been around for some time. But here's my (really extremely) high, barmy, and off-the-end-of-the-twig speculation: what if such presses were secretly developed long ago, and what if a method had been found during that development not merely to compress a very small amount of hydrogen to metallic form, but to compress larger machinable amounts and then to preserve them, and perhaps alloy them with other metals, perhaps using the presses themselves to achieve the alloy? Imagine, for example, compressing heavy water and... oh, say... mercury into a solid metal form, or perhaps a "goo" with solid metallic hydrogen embedded in it. Such a technology would, in other words, open new horizons in metallurgy and alloying. Imagine, too, the ability to grow massive artificial diamond slabs, with smooth surfaces accurate to a few nanometers, and making such slabs the surfaces of a massive diamond anvil press... you get the idea.
But since we're already off the end of the twig with arms and legs flailing wildly, let's extend our speculations further before we land on the canyon floor like Wile E. Coyote with a distinctive "plop"; what might such a development be used for? One thing, which the article mentions, is superconductivity:
The potential for the substance is tremendous. It could, for example, be able to transfer electricity without the bothersome habit of heating up, potentially giving birth to a completely new form of superconductor.
But I have this creeping (and creepy) intuition that what we might be looking at is one component in the search for the fourth generation nuclear weapon, i.e., the pure fusion bomb that does not need an atom (fission) bomb for the "fuse". Imagine, in a metallic form, perhaps alloyed with some other substance - I mentioned that high pressure "alloy" of heavy water and mercury for a (off-the-end-of-the-twig-and-completely-barmy) reason - it might be possible to do things with that metallic hydrogen that one cannot do with it in its gaseous form, like ripping molecular bonds of a crystalline lattice through sudden sharp mechanical (octanitrocubane-al?) shock... Rest assured, even though the idea is nutty (for a variety of reasons), some chemist somewhere in some deep dark black projects laboratory cave in upper Silesia or lower Patagonia or the barren desert mountains of Nevada or the tunnels of Chelyabinsk is brainstorming in a notebook, drawing chemical diagrams of just such things and doing back-of-the-envelope calculations...
... or perhaps they were done long ago, and we're in the manufacturing stage...
See you on the flip side...