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Hydrogen-rich compounds under extreme pressure may be better superconductors than the best conventional ones around, according to scientists in Germany. The results suggest metallic hydrogen-based compounds may offer up to 50 times less electrical resistivity than copper and conduct at -83°C, the highest recorded temperature for a hydrogen-rich superconductor. The best superconductors in existence today stop working at -109°C.

The work conducted by Mikhail Eremets and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Germany, is rooted in a theory proposed by Eugene Wigner and Hillard Bell Huntington back in 1935. The physicists predicted pure hydrogen becomes metallic at very high pressures – approximately 25GPa.

Theory predicts such a phase would conduct at ‘room temperature or even higher’, according to Isaac Silvera, from the University of Harvard, US, who was not involved in the work. One of the reasons for this is the hydrogen lattices’ ability to vibrate and force electrons into pairs. These Cooper pairs flow freely through the metallic hydrogen without any resistance.

But obtaining the sought-after metal has proven ‘very difficult’ in the past few decades, Silvera goes on to explain. To be any use for real world applications the metallic hydrogen needs to be metastable and remain in this metallic state at everyday pressure, something which has never been achieved.

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