Avert your eyes, Superman, because according to news out of Poland this morning, a team of chemists just got awfully close to actually creating the fictional substance of kryptonite. Don’t sweat too much though, Clark — the scientists were only able to bond the element of krypton with oxygen (as opposed to nitrogen) which wound up creating krypton monoxide. Inability to create real kryptonite notwithstanding, the fact the chemists successfully bonded krypton with anything is a revelatory achievement for an element previously known to be entirely unreactive. In light of the success, krypton (which is a noble gas like helium and neon) is no longer considered inert.
Conducted at the Polish Academy of Sciences, a team of chemists ran krypton through a series of various tests to build off a previous study positing that the chemical may react with hydrogen or carbon under extreme conditions. What they discovered — and subsequently published in Scientific Reports — was that krypton, while under severe pressure, also has the ability to form krypton oxides after bonding with oxygen. Thing is, the chemists didn’t actually see the reaction happen, but rather, used genetic algorithms to theorize its likelihood.
“Under high pressure, krypton, one of the most inert elements is predicted to become sufficiently reactive to form a new class of krypton compounds; krypton oxides,” the study reads. “Using modern ab-initio evolutionary algorithms in combination with Density Functional Theory, we predict the existence of several thermodynamically stable Kr/O species at elevated pressures.”
So while it was only a set of testing and algorithms which showed the potential to create krypton monoxide, the spot-on calculations appear hard to ignore. Moreover, the most stable of the chemist’s predictions is what they called a non-molecular Phase D. In this phase, the “krypton forms genuine chemical bonds with oxygen” and falls inside the range for creating covalent bonds. Considering the immense amount of pressure the team put on krypton during the study, krypton monoxide is likely only a manmade compound and not something that would be found anywhere in nature.
The published paper closes by acknowledging that all the predictions have the ability to be experimentally tested within the relative quantities documented by the chemists. It’s unknown if the same lab plans on running actual tests on the theory themselves, however, the findings do give chemists an entirely new way to view the element of krypton.