Everyone knows (or should know) that water is a good conductor of electricity, but that’s what happens with “normal” water that contains salts. Pure, distilled water, on the other hand, is an almost perfect insulator.
Pure and distilled water contains H2O molecules that are connected to each other by hydrogen bonds. The valence electrons remain bound and are not mobile. To create a conduction band with freely moving electrons, the water would have to be pressurized so much that the orbitals of the outer electrons overlap. However, such calculations show that this pressure is only present in the cores of giant planets like Jupiter.
An international collaboration of 15 scientists from 11 research institutions used a completely different method to produce an aqueous solution with metallic properties for the first time and documented this transition phase at BESSY II in Berlin, Germany. To do this, the researchers conducted experiments with alkali metals, which release their outer electrons very easily.
How did researchers turn water into metal?
However, the chemistry between alkali metals and water is known to be explosive. Sodium or other alkali metals immediately begin to burn in water. But the team discovered a way to keep this violent chemistry under control. The researchers did not throw a piece of alkali metal into the water, but did the exact opposite. The scientists introduced a little water into a drop of alkali metal, a sodium-potassium (Na-K) alloy, which is liquid at room temperature.
“You can see with your own eyes the transition phase into metallic water! The silver droplet of sodium-potassium is enveloped in a golden glow, which is very impressive,” said Dr. Robert Seidel, who oversaw the experiments, as quoted by EurekAlert.
“Our study shows that metallic water can be produced on Earth”
The thin layer of golden metallic water remains visible for a few seconds. Thus, the team of Professor Pavel Jungwirth, from the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, was able to prove through spectroscopic analyzes that the water was, indeed, in a metallic state.
The two decisive indicators of the metallic phase are the plasmon frequency and the conduction band. The researchers were able to establish these two quantities using optical reflection spectroscopy and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. “Our study shows that metallic water can be produced on Earth, but also the spectroscopic properties associated with the metallic gold sheen,” Seidel said.
The study of scientists was published in the journal naturally.