(ORDO NEWS) — Pure water is an almost perfect insulator.
Yes, water in nature conducts electricity, but that’s because of the impurities it contains, which dissolve into free ions, allowing electrical current to flow.
Pure water becomes “metallic” – electrically conductive – only at extremely high pressures, beyond our current laboratory production capabilities.
But as researchers first demonstrated back in 2021, it’s not just high blood pressure. the pressure that can induce this metallicity in pure water.
By bringing pure water into contact with an alkali metal with shared electrons – in this case an alloy of sodium and potassium – free-moving charged particles can be added, turning the water into a metal.
The resulting conductivity lasts only a few seconds, but it is an important step towards understanding this phase of water by studying it directly.
“You can see the phase transition to metallic water with the naked eye!” Physicist Robert Seidel of Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie in Germany explained last year when the article was published.
“The silvery sodium-potassium drop is covered with a golden glow, which is very impressive.”
At high enough pressure, almost any material can theoretically become conductive.
The idea is that if you compress the atoms hard enough, the orbitals of the outer electrons will start to shift. overlap, allowing them to move.
For water, this pressure is about 48 megabars, which is slightly less than 48 million Earth’s atmospheric pressure at sea level.
Pressures above this have been created in the laboratory, and such experiments are not suitable for studying metallic water.
Therefore, a group of researchers led by organic chemist Pavel Jungvirt from the Czech Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic turned to alkali metals.
These substances release their outer electrons very easily, which means they can induce electron sharing properties. pure water under high pressure without high pressure.
There is only one problem: alkali metals react very much with liquid water, sometimes even to the point of an explosion (there is a really cool video below).
Throw metal into water and you’ll get an explosion.
The research team found a very elegant way to solve this problem. What if, instead of adding metal to water, water was added to metal?
In the vacuum chamber, the team began by squeezing a small ball of sodium-potassium alloy, which is liquid, out of a nozzle. at room temperature and very carefully add a thin layer of pure water by vapor deposition.
Upon contact, electrons and metal cations (positively charged ions) flowed into the water from the alloy.
This not only gave the water a golden sheen, but also made the water conductive, as we must see in high-pressure metallic clear water.
This has been confirmed using optical reflection spectroscopy and synchrotron X.-beam photoelectron spectroscopy.
The two properties, the golden sheen and the conductive band, occupied two different frequency ranges, making it possible to clearly identify both of them.
In addition to giving us a better understanding of this phase transition here on Earth, the study could also allow us to take a closer look at the extremely high environments inside the major planets.
On the solar system’s icy planets, Neptune and Uranus, for example, liquid metallic hydrogen is believed to spin. And it is believed that only on Jupiter the pressure is high enough to metallize pure water.
The prospect of replicating the conditions inside the solar system’s planetary colossus is truly breathtaking.
“Our study not only shows that metallic water can indeed be produced on Earth, but also characterizes the spectroscopic properties associated with its beautiful golden metallic luster,” Seidel said.
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