Elements can be solid and liquid at the same time, study reveals

April 08, 2019

Scientists have discovered a new state of physical matter in which atoms can exist as both solid and liquid simultaneously.

Until now, the atoms in physical material were understood to exist typically in one of three states - solid, liquid or gas. Researchers have found, however, that some elements can, when subjected to extreme conditions, take on the properties of both solid and liquid states.

Applying high pressures and temperatures to potassium - a simple metal - creates a state in which most of the element's atoms form a solid lattice structure, the findings show. However, the structure also contains a second set of potassium atoms that are in a fluid arrangement.

Under the right conditions, over half a dozen elements - including sodium and bismuth - are thought to be capable of existing in the newly discovered state, researchers say.

Until now, it was unclear if the unusual structures represented a distinct state of matter, or existed as transition stages between two distinct states.

A team led by scientists from the University of Edinburgh used powerful computer simulations to study the existence of the state - known as the chain-melted state. Simulating how up to 20,000 potassium atoms behave under extreme conditions revealed that the structures formed represent the new, stable state of matter.

Applying pressure to the atoms leads to the formation of two interlinked solid lattice structures, the team says. Chemical interactions between atoms in one lattice are strong, meaning they stay in a solid form when the structure is heated, while the other atoms melt into a liquid state.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was supported by the European Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The work was carried out in collaboration with scientists from Xi'an Jiantong University in China.

Dr Andreas Hermann, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the study, said: "Potassium is one of the simplest metals we know, yet if you squeeze it, it forms very complicated structures. We have shown that this unusual but stable state is part solid and part liquid. Recreating this unusual state in other materials could have all kinds of applications."
-end-


University of Edinburgh

Related Physics Articles from Brightsurf:

Helium, a little atom for big physics
Helium is the simplest multi-body atom. Its energy levels can be calculated with extremely high precision only relying on a few fundamental physical constants and the quantum electrodynamics (QED) theory.

Hyperbolic metamaterials exhibit 2T physics
According to Igor Smolyaninov of the University of Maryland, ''One of the more unusual applications of metamaterials was a theoretical proposal to construct a physical system that would exhibit two-time physics behavior on small scales.''

Challenges and opportunities for women in physics
Women in the United States hold fewer than 25% of bachelor's degrees, 20% of doctoral degrees and 19% of faculty positions in physics.

Indeterminist physics for an open world
Classical physics is characterized by the equations describing the world.

Leptons help in tracking new physics
Electrons with 'colleagues' -- other leptons - are one of many products of collisions observed in the LHCb experiment at the Large Hadron Collider.

Has physics ever been deterministic?
Researchers from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the University of Vienna and the University of Geneva, have proposed a new interpretation of classical physics without real numbers.

Twisted physics
A new study in the journal Nature shows that superconductivity in bilayer graphene can be turned on or off with a small voltage change, increasing its usefulness for electronic devices.

Physics vs. asthma
A research team from the MIPT Center for Molecular Mechanisms of Aging and Age-Related Diseases has collaborated with colleagues from the U.S., Canada, France, and Germany to determine the spatial structure of the CysLT1 receptor.

2D topological physics from shaking a 1D wire
Published in Physical Review X, this new study propose a realistic scheme to observe a 'cold-atomic quantum Hall effect.'

Helping physics teachers who don't know physics
A shortage of high school physics teachers has led to teachers with little-to-no training taking over physics classrooms, reports show.

Read More: Physics News and Physics Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.