A team of scientists has done the seemingly impossible: turned pure water into metal! While water that contains salts conducts electricity, pure water is an almost perfect insulator and only becomes “metallic”, or electronically conductive, at extremely high pressure which is only possible on larger planets or stars. However, that did not keep researchers from trying.
The science and other stuff to know
As described in the study published in the journal Nature last year, researchers knew that conduction depends on freely moving electrons, but water molecules contain electrons that are immobile. These electrons could only be made mobile under extremely high pressure, and since that was not possible, researchers looked to other solutions.
The means to the end was found in experimenting with alkali metals, which release their outer electrons easily. Trouble is, an alkali’s reaction with water always results in an explosion. To get around that, the scientists introduced water to the alkali metal, instead of the other way around and conducted the reaction in a vacuum. A drop of sodium-potassium (Na-K) alloy was let into a chamber, followed by water vapors. Almost immediately, electrons from the alkali metal dissolved into water, becoming free and ready for conduction.
“You can see the phase transition to metallic water with the naked eye! The silvery sodium-potassium droplet covers itself with a golden glow, which is very impressive,” Robert Seidel, who supervised the experiment, was quoted by Eurekalert as saying.
The result was, finally, water in its metallic state. You can watch the video below to see the experiment in action:
It is indeed true that many studies like these are often instigated by researchers merely trying to prove a point. In this case, “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,” said Seidel. But sometimes, such results have wider implications that benefit humanity on a massive scale. The case of penicillin is a prime example: discovered accidentally, but saved millions of lives over the years.
While it is yet not clear what turning pure water into metal would lead to, it sure is a significant development. From what is apparent, the metallic water and its conductive properties could have key uses in the medical, electronics, and military industries.