November 30, 2022

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Water turns into metal.  It's not magic, it's pure science!

Water turns into metal. It’s not magic, it’s pure science!

An international team of scientists from eleven research institutions took a completely different approach to producing an aqueous solution with mineral properties for the first time and documented this phase transition in the BESSY II project. To this end, they have experimented with the alkali metals, which release valence electrons very easily.

The phase transition to mineral water can be seen with the naked eye! The silver potassium-sodium drop is covered in a golden glow, making a grand impression.Dr. Robert Seidl of Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin for Materialien und Energie

Water can be turned into metal – no need for high pressure

At sufficiently high pressure, any material can theoretically become a conductor. This is because if we compress the atoms tightly enough, the outermost (valence) electron orbitals will begin to overlap, allowing them to move. In the case of water, the pressure is about 48 megabars – about 48 million times the atmospheric pressure at sea level.

Although under laboratory conditions it was possible to generate pressures exceeding this value, such experiments would not be suitable for studying mineral waters. So, a team of researchers led by organic chemist Pavel Jungwirth of the Czech Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic turned to alkali metals.

These materials release their outer electrons very easily, which means they can catalyze the electron-sharing properties of pure water without requiring high pressure. There is only one problem: the alkali metals are very reactive with liquid water, and sometimes even cause an explosion.

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This problem has been resolved. What if you add water to the metal instead of adding the metal to the water? In the vacuum chamber, the team began by extruding a small lump of sodium-potassium ingot from the nozzle, which is liquid at room temperature, and very cautiously added a thin layer of clean water using a vapor deposition. Upon contact, electrons and metal cations flow into the water from the alloy. Not only did this give the water a golden sheen, but it also made the water an electrical conductor. This was confirmed by reflectance photoelectron spectroscopy and synchrotron X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy.

These studies could allow a comprehensive study of the extreme high pressure conditions within large planets. It is believed, for example, that in the icy planets of the solar system – Neptune and Uranus – swirls of liquid metallic hydrogen. Only on Jupiter is the pressure high enough to cause pure water to be mined. The potential for being able to recreate conditions within the giant planets of our solar system is – literally – electrifying. Details can be read in the magazine temper nature.