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  • Remember when you were a kid and everything was simple and you were told there were just

  • three states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas?

  • And then you got older and learned that plasma existed and you thought, “Ok, now I know

  • everything, it can't possibly get more complicated”?

  • Well, it just got more complicated.

  • Scientists have found a new state of matter that is a solid and a liquid at the same time,

  • and they used artificial intelligence that could lead to future discoveries about what's happening inside planets and stars.

  • Scientists at the University of Edinburgh discovered that under extreme pressure,

  • the metal potassium starts behaving very strangely.

  • In normal conditions, a bar of pure potassium is pretty unremarkable.

  • I mean, aside from its tendency to explode if you get it wet.

  • But dry potassium atoms link up and form orderly rows that conduct heat and electricity well.

  • For a long time, scientists thought that was all there was to potassium's structure,

  • until over a decade ago when scientists put sodium under extreme pressure.

  • At 20,000 times earth's atmospheric pressure, sodium transforms from shiny to transparent,

  • and from a conductor to an insulator.

  • X-ray images showed the crystal structure had gone from simple to complex.

  • Sodium is an alkali metal just above potassium on the periodic table, so scientists reasoned

  • if it behaves oddly under pressure, maybe potassium does too.

  • And indeed, at extreme pressures, potassium atoms rearrange themselves from orderly rows

  • into a much more complicated structure.

  • They form five tubes, arranged in an X shape.

  • Edge on it would look like a five on a playing die.

  • In between the outer tubes are chains of potassium atoms.

  • Researchers describe it as two loosely linked sublattices, with the tubes acting ashost

  • atoms while the chains wereguestatoms.

  • When researchers turned up the heat on their high-pressure potassium, that's when things got weird.

  • X-ray images showed the chains disappeared.

  • To figure out where they went, they turned to computer simulation.

  • They trained a neural network using small groups of potassium atoms until the artificial

  • intelligence understood quantum mechanics well enough to simulate it on a larger scale, up to 20,000 atoms.

  • Can we just take a moment to appreciate that computer science is at the point that software

  • can teach itself quantum mechanics?

  • When the computer model simulated potassium atoms at 20,000 to 40,000 times atmospheric

  • pressure, and between 400 and 800 Kelvin, it showed that the chains between the tubes

  • melted into liquid, while the tubes remained solid.

  • The potassium was in both states at once.

  • The researchers described it as though you had a sponge that leaked waterexcept the

  • sponge is also made of water.

  • They dubbed this new phase of matter thechain-melted state.”

  • While that is objectively fascinating, you may be wondering, “So what?

  • When is potassium going to be under those conditions?”

  • Potassium could exist in this state in the earth's mantle, though it's rarely in

  • its pure form, what with its preponderance to react violently and explode.

  • The machine learning technique that developed the computer model, however, can be used for

  • other elements in extreme situations beyond potassium.

  • Conditions are pretty tame on Earth's surface, but in the universe, extreme temperatures

  • and pressures are the norm.

  • Inside planets and stars matter could be doing all sorts of odd things.

  • Thanks to artificial intelligence we might be able to peel back the skin of alien worlds

  • to take a peek at what's going on under the surface.

  • Fun Fact: This computer model worked really well, not only simulating the chain-melted

  • state, but all of potassium's fourteen known phase transitions.

  • That's more phases than I went through in high school.

  • If you love matter science check out this video here about scientists finding a new

  • state of water hidden in our earth's mantle.

  • Don't forget to subscribe and I'll see you next time on Seeker.

Remember when you were a kid and everything was simple and you were told there were just

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B2 US potassium extreme pressure computer state melted

This New State of Matter Is a Liquid and a Solid at the Same Time!

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    Jerry Liu posted on 2019/05/24
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