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Researchers have turned liquid metal into a plasma, opening a new approach to achieving nuclear fusion.

Everyone is familiar with the common phases of matter we’ve known since elementary school: solids, liquids, and gases. There are other states of matter, and the most common state of the Universe’s observable matter is plasma.

Plasma is a mass of free moving electrons and ions—positively charged atoms that are missing their electrons—that easily conducts electricity. While not usually found naturally on Earth, we can generate artificial plasmas. The most common way to do this is to heat a gas to thousands of degrees Fahrenheit, which strips the atoms of their electrons.

This is how neon lights operate; an electric current flows through and excites the normally inert neon gas inside a tube, which then emits photons as its electrons peel off.

Heating up a gas is not the only way to create a plasma though. The researchers at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) were able to create a dense plasma of deuterium by creating a high-density liquid deuterium by first lowering its temperature to 21 degrees Kelvin (-422 degrees Fahrenheit) and then rapidly increasing the liquid deuterium’s temperature to almost 180,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Category: Science