In a squeeze, nitrogen gets chunky

9:39am, May 30, 2001

By applying brutal pressure, scientists have transformed a wisp of nitrogen, the most abundant gas in our atmosphere, into an opaque solid. The novel substance has remarkable electronic properties, the researchers report. Moreover, it keeps its new form even when the pressure is removed.

In the May 10 Nature, Mikhail I. Eremets and his colleagues at the Carnegie Institution of Washington (D.C.) describe how they created the new substance using a small anvil with diamond jaws. The device exerted pressures up to the equivalent of 2.4 million atmospheres. When the jaws let go, the unpressurized material remained stable as long as the researchers kept it at a frigid 100 kelvins.

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