Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


From metal to insulator and back again


New work from Carnegie's Russell Hemley and Ivan Naumov hones in on the physics underlying the recently discovered fact that some metals stop being metallic under pressure. Their work is published in Physical Review Letters.

Metals are compounds that are capable of conducting the flow of electrons that make up an electric current. Other materials, called insulators, are not capable of conducting an electric current. At low temperatures, all materials can be classified as either insulators or metals.

This is a view of the localized electrons in the unusual insulating state of Li under pressure, courtesy of Russell Hemley and Ivan Naumov.

Credit: Russell Hemley and Ivan Naumov

Insulators can be pushed across the divide from insulator to metal by tuning their surrounding conditions, particularly by placing them under pressure. It was long believed that once such a material was converted into a metal under pressure, it would stay that way forever as the pressure was increased. This idea goes back to the birth of quantum mechanics in the early decades of the last century.

But it was recently discovered that certain groups of metals become insulating under pressure-a remarkable finding that was not previously thought possible.

For example, lithium goes from being a metallic conductor to a somewhat resistant semiconductor under around 790,000 times normal atmospheric pressure (80 gigapascals) and then becomes fully metallic again under around 1.2 million times normal atmospheric pressure (120 gigapascals). Sodium enters an insulating state at pressures of around 1.8 million times normal atmospheric pressure (180 gigapascals). Calcium and nickel are predicted to have similar insulating states before reverting to being metallic.

Hemley and Naumov wanted to determine the unifying physics framework underlying these unexpected metal-to-insulator-to-metal transitions.

"The principles we developed will allow for predictions of when metals will become insulators under pressure, as well as the reverse, the when-insulators-can-become-metals transition," Naumov said.

The onsets of these transitions can be determined by the positions of electrons within the basic structure of the material. Insulators typically become metallic by a reduction in the spacing between atoms in the material. Hemley and Naumov demonstrated that for a metal to become an insulator, these reduced-spacing overlaps must be organized in a specific kind of asymmetry that was not previously recognized. Under these conditions, electrons localize between the atoms and do not freely flow as they do in the metallic form.

"This is yet another example of how extreme pressure is an important tool for advancing our understanding principles of the nature of materials at a fundamental level. The work will have implications for the search for new energy materials." Hemley said.


This work was supported by EFree, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the DOE Office of Science Basic Energy Sciences. The infrastructure and facilities are supported by NNSA and CDAC.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Media Contact

Russell Hemley


Russell Hemley | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht From ancient fossils to future cars
21.10.2016 | University of California - Riverside

nachricht Study explains strength gap between graphene, carbon fiber
20.10.2016 | Rice University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

First-time reconstruction of infectious bat influenza viruses

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Novel method to benchmark and improve the performance of protein measumeasurement techniques

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Amazon rain helps make more rain

25.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>