For years, scientist have believed that there are three states of physical matter: solids, liquids, and gases. Now new research indicates that there may be another stable state of matter in which some atoms exhibit the properties of a liquid and a solid at the same time.
Experts at University of Edinburgh were using artificial intelligence to study how some elements react when being subjected to extreme conditions. Specifically, they were using a an artificial intelligence machine called a neural network that learns how to predict behavior based on previous instances. They were simulating how potassium atoms behaved under high pressures and temperatures when they made the unusual discovery using, according to National Geographic.
The new state of matter is known as a “chain-melted state.” Physicist and coauthor of the study Andreas Hermann described the new matter as looking something like a saturated sponge of water dripping with water.
Scientists chose to examine potassium because in its natural state, it is a relatively simple metal. However, when it is placed under extreme pressure, Hermann explained that it becomes a “very complicated structure.”
Simply put, scientists used computer models to confirm that between about 20,000 and 40,000 times atmospheric pressure and 260 and 980 degrees Fahrenheit, potassium atoms arrange themselves into an “elaborate formation” while they dissolve into a liquid form while also remaining in a solid form.
This is reportedly the first time experts have been able to reliably demonstrate such a state exists for any element.
Interestingly, there are several other simple metals, such as sodium and bismuth, that researchers believe can also exist in this new state.
Hermann, from the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy department, led the study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Recreating this unusual state in other materials could have all kinds of applications,” he said, according to Phys.org.
The discovery could help scientists learn more about other substances, said Marius Millot, from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“Most of the matter in the universe is at high pressure and temperature, for instance inside planets and stars,” he told National Geographic.
Under the right pressure and temperature, scientists have confirmed—using artificial intelligence—that potassium metal can become a solid and a liquid at the same time. https://t.co/5pYXoJGkWC
— National Geographic Magazine (@NatGeoMag) April 8, 2019
The newly-discovered state of matter joins other unusual and exotic states of matter including plasma, superfluid, superconductor, Bose-Einstein condensate, Quark-gluon plasma, and degenerate matter.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council supported the research, which was carried out in conjunction with scientists from Xi’an Jiantong University.