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"At high temperatures, the atoms in iron oxide crystals are arranged with the same structure as common table salt," said Ronald Cohen, a co-author of the study. "Just like table salt, iron oxide at ambient conditions is a good insulator—it does not conduct electricity." "Our new results show, instead, that iron oxide metallises without any change in structure and that combined temperature and pressure are required. Furthermore, our theory shows that the way the electrons behave to make it metallic is different from other materials that become metallic." A mixture of magnesium and iron oxide makes up much of the Earth's mantle - the solid layer just outside the planet's liquid outer core. The fact that iron oxide behaves as a metal means it will electrically link the core and mantle, affecting the way the magnetic field makes its way to the Earth's surface and beyond.
At 1,650C and 690,000 times sea-level pressure, the metal changed the degree to which it conducted electricity.