Scientists Make Huge Discovery, Promptly Lose It

And skeptics are wondering if they ever really made it at all
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 28, 2017 8:26 PM CST
Scientists Lose World's Only Sample of Metallic Hydrogen
Scientists say they created the world's first sample of metallic hydrogen--which could be used to create better rocket fuel--then promptly lost it.   (Getty Images/Ales_Utovko)

Last month, Harvard researchers announced they'd created the world's first and only sample of metallic hydrogen, publishing their findings in Science. Other scientists were skeptical, to say the least. And now the researchers' sample has apparently disappeared, which Gizmodo finds awfully "convenient." Scientists have been trying to create metallic hydrogen for 80 years, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Isaac Silvera, whose team claimed to have finally created it, tells the Harvard Gazette metallic hydrogen is "the Holy Grail of high-pressure physics." One reason: It could be used to create "the most powerful rocket propellant known to man," opening up further reaches of the cosmos.

Silvera's team created its sample by subjecting hydrogen to extremely low temperatures and high pressures. The sample—one-fifth the diameter of a single human hair—was stored at -316 degrees Fahrenheit between two diamonds exerting 4 million times the pressure of Earth's atmosphere at sea level, Science Alert reports. On Feb. 11, researchers were preparing to ship the sample to Chicago for further tests—they hadn't even confirmed if hydrogen was present or if the sample was a solid (hence all the skepticism)—when the diamonds broke. Researchers say the sample either turned back into a gas or is lying around somewhere too small to see. Silvera's team is hoping to recreate metallic hydrogen in the coming months and is encouraging its skeptics to try to do the same. (Scientists haven't solved the Tully monster mystery after all.)

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