Metallic Water Prepared for the First Time Under Terrestrial Conditions

Daily Science

Researchers have managed to impart metallic properties to a water layer using a unique technique without exerting enormous pressure. According to scientists, a conduction band containing moving electrons forms a water membrane around a drop of liquid alkali metal.

Metals are well-known for their excellent electrical conductivity due to the loosely binding of their electrons. In the lattice of metal atoms, charge carriers may freely travel, forming a so-called conduction band containing mobile electrons. This is not usually the case with pure water - it's a powerful insulator. Because electrons stay strongly coupled with the H2O molecules, which are loosely connected through hydrogen connections.

However, at least in principle, this may be changed: To do so, water should be placed under such high pressure that the external electron orbits overlap. This will then form a conduction band, which gives the water a conductivity similar to copper, with free-moving electrons.

However, the calculations demand an enormous pressure: 50 megabars - around 50 million times higher than on the planet's surface. Such circumstances occur only within giant planets such as Jupiter - they cannot be experimentally proven to date. But an international team of experts has now reportedly managed to produce metallic water without mega-pressure.

Donators of Alkali Metal Charge Carriers

The foundation is the transmission of electrons to a water film. They are made of alkaline metals, which very readily release their external electron.

However, to actualize this idea, the scientists had to overcome a "bombastic" issue with the use of alkaline metals and water: "Transferring salt into water is a favorite classroom experiment: it produces a tremendous explosion," writes the Czech Science Academy senior writer Pavel Jungwirth in Prague.

"We have gone the other way to stop this intense reaction, which is a laboratory issue. Rather than putting the alkaline metal into the water, we introduced the water to the metal," Jungwirth explains.

The metal was a drop: the scientists employed a sodium-potassium alloy that was liquid at ambient temperature. The tests were conducted in Berlin's BESSY II high vacuum sample room. Inside, there was a fine nozzle that dropped the liquid Na-K alloy.

The silver drip expanded approximately ten seconds till it got out of the nozzle. The scientists led water vapor into the sample room in the meanwhile. Consequently, a thin layer of water developed on the drop surface consisting of just a few molecular layers.

Golden Shimmer Success

As researchers explain, metal ions and, in particular, electrons from the alkaline alloy moved into the water. They then produced an effect on a metal conduction band resembling free electrons.

"You can see with a naked eye the phase change to metal water! "The silver sodium-potassium drop has a golden shade," says Robert Seidel, co-author of the Helmholtz Center Berlin for Energy and Materials.

The tiny coating of glittering gold water was visible a few seconds later. It was so analyzed, and the experts could also establish the metallic characteristics.

The two essential characteristics of a metal phase, as they explain, are the so-called plasma frequency and specific effects of the conductive band. These two values were determined by scientists using optical reflection spectroscopy and X-ray spectroscopy synchrotron. This enabled them to show that water is really in a metallic form.

"Our research demonstrates not only that metallic water can be created on earth, but also that it is spectroscopic in its lovely metallic gold shape," Seidel concludes.

Source: Spectroscopic evidence for a gold-colored metallic water solution Published in Nature

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