Metallic hydrogen and diamonds may have been made from plastics

A combination of x-ray diffraction experiments and simulations suggests that an intense laser can transform polystyrene

A simplified experimental approach for studying liquid metallic hydrogen has been developed by an international research team.1 The scientists claim they’ve turned plastics into hydrogen and carbon using an intense laser beam that produces crushing pressures and high temperatures that transforms these elements into diamonds and a liquid metal. The new results could have important applications in planetary science and materials synthesis.

’We’ve previously shown how plastic forms diamonds at high pressures2 and now we’re trying to understand what’s happening to the hydrogen at the same time,’ says Nicholas Hartley at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the US. ‘Hydrogen at the kind of pressures we’re reaching behaves like a metal, and such metallic hydrogen forms the interior of Jupiter and Saturn, where it’s the origin of their magnetic fields. There are also suggestions that metallic hydrogen could be a superconductor, which makes it a very interesting material to study for possible applications here on Earth.’