Research

Finding New States of Matter

A tube with a white chunky solid floating on a liquid, with a swirling fog-like gas over it

As children we’re taught that there are three basic states of matter: solids, liquids, and gases. The latter two are known scientifically as fluids. But the world doesn’t divide quite so simply into those three categories, and scientists have since named several other states of matter, including plasmassuperfluids, and Bose-Einstein condensates.  Many of these types of matter only exist under extreme temperatures and/or pressures, which makes them difficult to observe. Scientists have instead turned to numerical simulation to discover and study these exotic materials.

One of the latest discoveries among these bizarre materials is a form of potassium that simultaneously displays properties of a solid and a liquid. Inside this so-called chain-melted potassium, there’s a complex crystalline lattice containing smaller chains of atoms. One author described the material thus: “ It would be like holding a sponge filled with water that starts dripping out, except the sponge is also made of water.” That certainly boggles my mind! (Image credit: Turtle Rock Scientific; research credit: V. Robinson et al.; via NatGeo; submitted by Emily R.)

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