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It’s not every day we learn about a new state of physical matter, but today is such a day. Rather than your typical solid, gas, or liquid, scientists have confirmed a new “chain-melted state” that is simultaneously solid and liquid at the same time. The state is thermodynamically stable, and a new discovery. It’s also quite weird.
Now consider that this exotic and improbable-sounding matter has been inside our bodies all along. It’s a newly discovered state of potassium atoms, an alkali metal first isolated from the ashes of plants. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps your nerves to function and allows your muscles to contract. It helps your heart to beat and facilitates moving nutrients in and out of cells.
The consequences of low potassium levels are apparent in a variety of symptoms: restricted growth, reduced flowering, lower yields and lower quality produce.
— Potassium (@Potassium_Atom) April 17, 2018
“Potassium is one of the simplest metals we know, yet if you squeeze it, it forms very complicated structures,” explained the study coauthor.
— The University of Edinburgh (@EdinburghUni) April 9, 2019
The atoms of potassium can be changed under high pressure and temperature to this new state. This state could occur within the Earth’s mantle right now but is improbable since potassium is not usually found in a pure form. In fact, most of the matter (as we know it) in the universe exists under high temperature and pressure, inside stars and planets. This means that chain-melted dual-state matter could exists just about everywhere.
The study was presented in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science by coauthor, Andreas Hermann of the University of Edinburgh.
“It’s kind of strange,” says Hermann. “It would be like holding a sponge filled with water that starts dripping out, except the sponge is also made of water,” he says.
Imagine holding a sponge that is both a liquid and solid at once, and you can see why it’s slightly mind-bending. This new state of matter could have a wide range of applications. According to Metro, the researchers believe about six other elements, including sodium and bismuth, are capable of existing in this new state.
According to National Geographic, the discovery was not made by human beings, but by an artificial intelligence machine.
“Hermann and his colleagues turned to simulations to find out, using what’s known as a neural network—an artificial intelligence machine that learns how to predict behavior based on prior examples. After being trained on small groups of potassium atoms, the neural network learned quantum mechanics well enough to simulate collections containing tens of thousands of atoms.”
what could go wrong? “After being trained on small groups of potassium atoms, the neural network learned quantum mechanics well enough to simulate collections containing tens of thousands of atoms.”https://t.co/dO7tOiWSMf
— Matt Leising (@mattleising) April 8, 2019
Scientists have known for many years that metals similar to potassium change their molecular structure in surprising ways when compressed. Another similar common metal, sodium changes from an orderly structure to a complex crystal formation that becomes transparent.
Elements can be solid and liquid at the same time, study reveals. Researchers have found that some elements can, when subjected to extreme conditions, take on the properties of both solid and liquid states. https://t.co/874y0wKAFP pic.twitter.com/zPtbJEyJLx
— Physics Astro @ Edin (@PhysAstroEd) April 9, 2019
See an experiment that changed sodium below (do not try at home):
Like sodium, potassium changes under high temperature and pressure in an elaborate way. Researchers argue about what actually happens as the atoms form latticed X shapes with separate chains that disappear as the temperature climbs. The chains convert to liquid while the X shaped crystals of potassium remain in solid form.
See more below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube