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Marker Lecture: New World of Materials in Extreme Environments

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Russell Hemley, Carnegie Institution of Washington
06 April 2016 from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM
117 Osmond Laboratory
Contact Name
John Badding
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Matter and materials respond in extraordinary ways when subjected to extreme conditions, most notably extremes of pressure and temperature.  When atoms and molecules, as well as solids and liquids, are compressed to very high pressures entirely new materials as well as new physical and chemical phenomena emerge. Owing to advances in experimental techniques, we can now explore this new world in the laboratory by creating extreme conditions found deep inside the largest planets and other astrophysical bodies. ‘Static’ or sustained pressures can now reach millions of atmospheres (megabars) with devices based on diamond anvils, and ‘dynamic’ pressures approaching a billion atmospheres (gigabar) can now be reached, for example with very large lasers.


These experiments, working hand in hand with theory, reveal a world of astonishing material complexity, a finding that overturn a century-old view that materials get simpler under pressure. From the standpoint of chemistry, these findings open a new dimension to the periodic table, while shedding new light on chemical bonding under ‘ordinary’ conditions. As the ‘simplest’ and most abundant element, hydrogen has a special importance.  Hydrogen is also the lightest and therefore most ‘quantum mechanical’, a feature that gives rise to unique structural and electronic properties at megabar pressures and the possibility of entirely new states of matter when compressed even further. 


The implications of these discoveries span the sciences. The findings are leading to new potential technological materials, including new classes of very high-temperature superconductors, superhard substances, and energy conversion and storage materials. New discoveries in hydrogen and other cosmically abundant elements at multimegabar pressures provide a window on the deep interiors of not only our planet but also those of giant planets like Jupiter, including the myriad planets found in other solar systems throughout the cosmos.  Finally, at the lowest pressures, there are important implications for soft matter and biology, work that is redefining limits of life in extreme environments here on Earth as well as elsewhere in the cosmos.