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Hydrogen can form ‘ghost bonds’ with something that isn’t even there

Hydrogen can form ‘ghost bonds’ with something that isn’t even there
This hydrogen atom is bonding with nothing. Spooky! M. Eiles/Purdue University

A team of theoretical physicists is looking at how to make a hydrogen atom join an empty space. Although it sounds like science fiction, this experiment is based on the so-called “trilobite molecules”, which arise when an electron exerts a weak attraction force on a neutral atom of ground state. The results have been published in Physical Review Letters.

Normal chemical bonds link two atoms, usually sharing their electrons. Now, theorists have figured out how to trick a single hydrogen atom into a bond with nothing, attracting the single electron of the atom to the same position and state as if it were in a real bond.

State of Rydberg 

Matt Eiles, of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and his colleagues base their experiment on the basis of a 2015 investigation, which saw the creation of strange and large links in other molecules, such as cesium diatomic.

In a diatomic cesium, a cesium atom is in a rare condition called Rydberg’s state, which allows its binding electron to stretch up to a thousand times more than the other cesium atom, essentially forming a large bond.

Eiles says that by imitating this state with a single atom of hydrogen, they can cause it to adhere to nothing. The trick is to expose the hydrogen atom and its electron to a series of delicate magnetic and electric fields. “We predict it will live for several hundred microseconds, or even longer in a cold environment,” says Eiles.

However, your team will not attempt to create any ghostly links. “As simple [physical] theorists, we will leave this challenge to the experts, to the [physical] experimental,” he adds.

For his part, Johannes Wilhelm Deiglmayr, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and co-leader of the team that made the unusual cesium molecules, agrees. “I think it could really be done and It would be very fun to watch.

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