Atoms can exist as both solid and liquid in ‘new state’ discovered by scientists

Scientists examining potassium have discovered a new state of physical matter where atoms can exist as both solid and liquid at the same time.

The research is said to clear up whether there was a distinct state of matter or the atom structures represented a transition between two stages – whether solid, liquid or gas.

Tests were carried out on the “simple metal”, such as applying high pressures and temperatures, with powerful computer simulations used to study what was known as the chain-melted state.

Experts from the University of Edinburgh believe more than half a dozen other elements – including sodium and bismuth – are capable of existing in this new state.

Dr Andreas Hermann, of the university’s School of Physics and Astronomy, led the study which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

He 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.”

The study was supported by the European Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the work was carried out in collaboration with scientists from Xi’an Jiantong University in China.

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