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Keywords:

  • hydrostatic limits;
  • high-pressure crystallographic studies.

The behavior of a number of commonly used pressure media, including nitrogen, argon, 2-propanol, a 4:1 methanol–ethanol mixture, glycerol and various grades of silicone oil, has been examined by measuring the X-ray diffraction maxima from quartz single crystals loaded in a diamond-anvil cell with each of these pressure media in turn. In all cases, the onset of non-hydrostatic stresses within the medium is detectable as the broadening of the rocking curves of X-ray diffraction peaks from the single crystals. The onset of broadening of the rocking curves of quartz is detected at ∼9.8 GPa in a 4:1 mixture of methanol and ethanol and at ∼4.2 GPa in 2-propanol, essentially at the same pressures as the previously reported hydrostatic limits determined by other techniques. Gigahertz ultrasonic interferometry was also used to detect the onset of the glass transition in 4:1 methanol–ethanol and 16:3:1 methanol–ethanol–water, which were observed to support shear waves above ∼9.2 and ∼10.5 GPa, respectively, at 0.8–1.2 GHz. By contrast, peak broadening is first detected at ∼3 GPa in nitrogen, ∼1.9 GPa in argon, ∼1.4 GPa in glycerol and ∼0.9 GPa in various grades of silicone oil. These pressures, which are significantly lower than hydrostatic limits quoted in the literature, should be considered as the practical maximum limits to the hydrostatic behavior of these pressure media at room temperature.