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.
The chemical bonds between nitrogen atoms in the new solid differ from the kind of bond holding ordinary nitrogen-gas molecules together. Consequently, the new substance packs tremendous energy into a small volume, notes Ho-kwang (David) Mao, a member of the Carnegie team. "If we could make