Direct observation of a pressure-induced metal-to-semiconductor transition in lithium

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Lithium, the lightest metal, has long been considered to have a ‘simple’ electronic structure that can be well explained within the nearly-free-electron model. But lithium does not stay ‘simple’ under compression: rather than becoming more free-electron-like as pressure is increased, first-principles calculations1,2 suggest that it transforms into a semi-metal or semiconductor. Experimentally, it has been shown that dense lithium adopts low-symmetry structures3,4; there is also evidence that its resistivity increases with pressure5,6,7,8. However, the electronic transport properties of lithium have so far not been directly monitored as a function of increasing static pressure. Here we report electrical resistance measurements on lithium in a diamond anvil cell up to pressures of 105 GPa, which reveal a significant increase in electrical resistivity and a change in its temperature dependence near 80 GPa. Our data thus provide unambiguous experimental evidence for a pressure-induced metal-to-semiconductor transition in a ‘simple’ metallic element.

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Figure 1: Experimental set-up.
Figure 2: Electrical resistivity changes with pressure and temperature.
Figure 3: Visual observation of pressure-induced changes in metallic reflection.


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We thank N. W. Ashcroft and J. S. Schilling for discussions. This work was supported in part by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (S), 19104009 and Global COE Program (Core Research and Engineering of Advanced Materials-Interdisciplinary Education Center for Materials Science), MEXT, Japan, and a Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Fellows (19·52753). We acknowledge J. Tse, Y. Yao and D. Klug for discussions and suggestions.

Author Contributions T. M. and K. S. performed the experiments and analysed the data. Both authors wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Takahiro Matsuoka.

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Matsuoka, T., Shimizu, K. Direct observation of a pressure-induced metal-to-semiconductor transition in lithium. Nature 458, 186–189 (2009) doi:10.1038/nature07827

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