Scientists in Poland are bragging about creating something that’s close to kryptonite – the radioactive element from Superman’s home planet of Krypton that exposes his only weakness. Can’t these scientists find something else to work on?
There’s no kryptonite on Earth yet but there is krypton – chemical element Kr and number 36 on the Periodic Table. It’s a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas found in the atmosphere in trace amounts and used primarily in fluorescent lamps. Krypton is inert and harmless to Superman.
That didn’t stop theoretical chemists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences from messing around with it. In an article in the journal Scientific Reports, Dr. Patrick Zaleski-Ejgierd and Ph.D. student Pawel M. Lata describe how atoms of krypton can be chemically bonded to another element to form a new crystalline material. While krypton compounds have been created before, they’ve never formed a stable crystal lattice. The key, according to the team, was intense pressure.
Not the kind of pressure Superman would crush them with if he found out what they were making, but pressure in the range of 300 to 500 million atmospheres that can be achieved using a diamond anvil cell. Under that kind of pressure, krypton can be bonded with oxygen to form krypton monoxide, which the researchers describe as a crystal having the characteristics of a semiconductor.
Should Superman stay away from Warsaw? It depends. For one thing, Zaleski-Ejgierd and Lata didn’t actually make the compound, just model it and prove that it can be created using diamond anvils which are currently available. Also, Zaleski-Ejgierd points out that the other element bonded with krypton is oxygen, not nitrogen, so the compound should more rightly be called “kryptoxide, not kryptonite.”
Zaleski-Ejgierd also implies that Superman shouldn’t be worried because the chemistry needed to make the krypton compound is closer to ‘nearly impossible’ than ‘possible’.
Reactions occurring at extremely high pressure are almost unknown, very, very exotic chemistry. We call it ‘Chemistry on the Edge’.
Funny, that sounds like something Lex Luthor would say.