It turns out that solid, liquid and gas isn’t the whole story – after scientists found a new state of physical matter… where atoms are both solid and liquid at the same time.
When you apply extreme pressure and temperature to potassium, it can form a state in which most of the atoms form a lattice structure – but a second set are in a fluid arrangement.
Andreas Hermann of the University of Edinburgh siad, ‘It would be like holding a sponge filled with water that starts dripping out, except the sponge is also made of water.
Under the right conditions, over half a dozen elements – including sodium and bismuth – are thought to be capable of existing in the newly discovered state, researchers say.
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Until now, it was unclear if the unusual structures represented a distinct state of matter, or existed as transition stages between two distinct states.
A team led by scientists from the University of Edinburgh used powerful computer simulations to study the existence of the state – known as the chain-melted state.
Simulating how up to 20,000 potassium atoms behave under extreme conditions revealed that the structures formed represent the new, stable state of matter.
Dr Andreas Hermann, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the study, said: ‘Potassium is one of the simplest metals we know, yet if you squeeze it, it forms very complicated structures. We have shown that this unusual but stable state is part solid and part liquid. Recreating this unusual state in other materials could have all kinds of applications.’