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Unusually complex phase of dense nitrogen at extreme conditions

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Original languageEnglish
Article number4717
JournalNature Communications
Volume9
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2018

Abstract

Nitrogen exhibits an exceptional polymorphism under extreme conditions, making it unique amongst the elemental diatomics and a valuable testing system for experiment-theory comparison. Despite attracting considerable attention, the structures of many high-pressure nitrogen phases still require unambiguous determination. Here, we report the structure of the elusive high-pressure high-temperature polymorph ι–N2 at 56 GPa and ambient temperature, determined by single crystal X-ray diffraction, and investigate its properties using ab initio simulations. We find that ι–N2 is characterised by an extraordinarily large unit cell containing 48 N2 molecules. Geometry optimisation favours the experimentally determined structure and density functional theory calculations find ι–N2 to have the lowest enthalpy of the molecular nitrogen polymorphs that exist between 30 and 60 GPa. The results demonstrate that very complex structures, similar to those previously only observed in metallic elements, can become energetically favourable in molecular systems at extreme pressures and temperatures.

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