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Chain-melted state is real – some elements can be solid and liquid at the same time

There are 3 main states that elements exist in – solid, liquid and gas. There are other possibilities and various classifications in between, but these three states are something you learned at school. However, now researchers have found that some elements can be both liquid and solid at the same time. Of course, some extreme conditions are necessary for that to happen.

Potassium is considered to be one of the simpler elements, but it can also hide some interesting structures. Image credit: Dnn87 via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0)

You take a solid and heat it up until it melts – voila – it’s liquid! Heat it up some more and it becomes gas. In many cases it is how it goes. However, a new research from a team led by scientists from the University of Edinburgh showed that it is not always the case. While at high pressure and temperatures most of potassium’s atoms form into a solid lattice structure, there is also a second set or potassium atoms that are in a fluid arrangement. And both at the same time. Scientists say that probably over half a dozen elements are capable of being in this state.

Scientists call this newly discovered state a chain-melted state. Up until now it was unclear whether it is a legitimate state or just a transitional stage between two distinct states. However, now scientists used powerful computer simulations to study the existence of the state and determined that the chain-melted state is real. They looked into 20,000 potassium atoms under extreme conditions and found that the chain-melted state is stable – both solid lattice structures are interlinked. This pretty much means that the atoms can be arranged into a solid element and a liquid element structure at the same time. In one lattice chemical bonds are strong and so elements remain in a solid state, while the other one is melting into a liquid state.

Scientists have researched the possibility of this phenomenon for quite some time, but even they are surprised that it is potassium to bring them this discovery. Dr Andreas Hermann, one of the authors of 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”.

What are those applications? We don’t know yet. However, this is an area worth exploring. For example, scientists now should see how this chain-melted state is presented in other elements and what characteristics is gives them.

 

Source: University of Edinburgh


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