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Hydrogen takes a new form

High-pressure studies reveal long-sought phase

By
12:03pm, March 1, 2012

Squeezing hydrogen at extreme pressures changes it into a mix of honeycombed atoms layered with free-floating molecules — an entirely new state of the element and the first new phase found in decades.

If confirmed, the discovery will be only the fourth known phase of hydrogen, the simplest element and one long probed for basic insights into the nature of matter.

“I think we have pretty bulletproof evidence that there is a new phase,” says Eugene Gregoryanz of the University of Edinburgh, leader of the team that will report the work in an upcoming Physical Review Letters.

Hydrogen’s first three phases pop into existence depending on the pressure and temperature. Gregoryanz and his colleagues squished room-temperature hydrogen to some of the highest pressures ever. At around 2 million times the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere, the scientists saw distinct changes in certain properties, such as how light scatters into diffe

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