Magazine article Science News

Crystalline Hydrogen Gets Its First X Ray

Magazine article Science News

Crystalline Hydrogen Gets Its First X Ray

Article excerpt

For decades, theoretical physicists have explored solid hydrogen-the simplest of elements-with their minds. Experimental physicists, however, have had a difficult time of it, largely because X rays tend to fly past hydrogen atoms with little interaction. Now, a team of U.S. and French physicists announces it has overcome this challenge and has peered at a single crystal of hydrogen.

"To take a direct look at solid hydrogen is a real breakthrough," says Paul Loubeyre of the University of Paris. "It was considered impossible." In the Oct. 24 Nature, he and his coauthors describe how they carefully squeezed hydrogen gas until it became solid, then captured its image at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, the world's brightest X-ray instrument.

The researchers injected hydrogen and helium gas into a tiny sealed vise, or diamond anvil, made of two diamonds that can be squeezed together. For several days, the physicists slowly closed the vise, increasing the pressure on the gases to force them into a fluid state. Because of electrical interactions, hydrogen and helium repel one another.

At a pressure of more than a million times atmospheric conditions, the hydrogen solidified into a single crystal, pushed into the center of the vise by the liquid helium surrounding it. The researchers also created a crystal of deuterium, a heavier isotope of hydrogen.

"It's a really clever idea, to grow the crystal in helium," says Isaac F. Sil- vera of Harvard University. …

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