Science

Bizarre fourth state of water discovered

Bizarre fourth state of water ...
A sample of beryl and an illustration that shows the strange shape water molecules take when found in the mineral's cage-like channels
A sample of beryl and an illustration that shows the strange shape water molecules take when found in the mineral's cage-like channels
View 1 Image
A sample of beryl and an illustration that shows the strange shape water molecules take when found in the mineral's cage-like channels
1/1
A sample of beryl and an illustration that shows the strange shape water molecules take when found in the mineral's cage-like channels

You already know that water can have three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. But scientists at the Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) have discovered that when it's put under extreme pressure in small spaces, the life-giving liquid can exhibit a strange fourth state known as tunneling.

The water under question was found in super-small six-sided channels in the mineral beryl, which forms the basis for the gems aquamarine and emerald. The channels measure only about five atoms across and function basically as cages that can each trap one water molecule. What the researchers found was that in this incredibly tight space, the water molecule exhibited a characteristic usually only seen at the much smaller quantum level, called tunneling.

Basically, quantum tunneling means that a particle, or in this case a molecule, can overcome a barrier and be on both sides of it at once – or anywhere between. Think of rolling a ball down one side of a hill and up another. The second hill is the barrier and the ball would only have enough energy to climb it to the height from which it was originally dropped. If the second hill was taller, the ball wouldn't be able to roll over it. That's classical physics. Quantum physics and the concept of tunneling means the ball could jump to the other side of the hill with ease or even be found inside the hill – or on both sides of the hill at once.

"In classical physics the atom cannot jump over a barrier if it does not have enough energy for this," ORNL instrument scientist Alexander Kolesnikov tells Gizmag – Kolesnikov is lead author on a paper detailing the discovery published in the April 22 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters. But in the case of the beryl-trapped water his team studied, the water molecules acted according to quantum – not classical – laws of physics.

"This means that the oxygen and hydrogen atoms of the water molecule are 'delocalized' and therefore simultaneously present in all six symmetrically equivalent positions in the channel at the same time," says Kolesnikov. "It's one of those phenomena that only occur in quantum mechanics and has no parallel in our everyday experience."

By using neutron-scattering experiments, the researchers were able to see that the water molecules spread themselves into two corrugated rings, one inside the other. At the center of the ring, the hydrogen atom, which is one third of the water molecule, took on six different orientations at one time. "Tunneling among these orientations means the hydrogen atom is not located at one position, but smeared out in a ring shape," says a report in the online news journal Physics.

"This discovery represents a new fundamental understanding of the behavior of water and the way water utilizes energy," says ORNL co-author Lawrence Anovitz. "It's also interesting to think that those water molecules in your aquamarine or emerald ring – blue and green varieties of beryl – are undergoing the same quantum tunneling we've seen in our experiments."

Because the ORNL team discovered this new property of water but not exactly why and how it works, Anovitz also says that the finding is sure to get scientists working to uncover the mechanism that leads to the phenomenon.

Kolesnikov adds that the discovery could have implications wherever water is found in extremely tight spaces such as in cell membranes or inside carbon nanotubes. The following video from ORNL provides more details on the discovery.

ORNL researchers discover a new state of water molecule

Sources: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Physics

27 comments
IlyaSimkhovich
i'm not surprised that it's hexagonal. that seems to be a favorite shape in the universe/physics. things love to settle in that form.
marcelifirlej@gmail.com
This only proofs that molecules are quantum fields, as anything is in QFT theory. Any fields properties represents also space dimensions, therefore locally field has own place having frozen time inside dimensions of other fields.
TonyKuchta
It is NOT a new state, the states of water are solid liquid or gas , pretending that a solid crystal form shows how easily fooled people are
JamesPlotts
Old News?: http://faculty.washington.edu/ghp/research-themes/water-science/
Rocky Stefano
Perhaps understanding the mechanics around this can lead to better cryostasis processes in the future
BillKitsch
I perfected ORNL's [quantum] frost-less heat pump, but they won't listen... (my US Patent 7,895,850) Now dig: Neutrinos (or their sub-particles) exist both in and outside of Time. That's why these 'spooky actions' appear, well, spooky... They are not. The instantaneous communications occur outside Time, and are communicated reciprocally at the resolution at which Space-Time interfaces with Infinity.
TedStanwood
They missed one. It can also exist as.... energy. But then.. everything can, which is where everything actually began, and where it will eventually recycle to.
RobertL.Bliven
I don't agree that this is a new form either. It started out as a liquid, and it turns into a solid under great pressure and time. All they really discovered is a new way that water becomes a solid. The fact that it takes a certain shape doesn't offer us new insight into a new form. There are many different forms, but there is currently no way to prove them in a physical nature.
Nutter
This is solid state of matter - duh... I assume any beginning chemistry student is aware of mineral "hydrates" in which water molecules are incorporated into the crystal structure (many, many hydrates exist in nature ) and it is nothing new. Of course, a crystal, in this sense, does not exist - except as a solid. From an energy standpoint, a solid has less energy that a liquid or a gas and it is demonstrated by reduction in degrees of freedom of motion (vibrational only). That the hydrate molecule can form in a manner that seems to defy conventional classical theory - in that it forms despite the presence of sufficient "activation energy" which is the only interesting thing herewith. However, consider: 1) That there is obviously an alternate mechanism that reduces or bypasses the apparent / obvious activation energy is not unique. There are many reactions / changes in chemistry that occur despite insufficient activation energy. Most of these are performed by addition of other substances that act as a catalyst in one of multiple ways - such that they provide an alternate pathway for the reaction to occur (which many be more sophisticated / complicated - but of lesser energy requirement. In bio-chemistry and biology, the organic molecular reactions which often appear to defy conventional activation energy rules occurs routinely (or life would be impossible) through complex catalysts called "enzymes". These are even required for a plant to perform photosynthesis. I am assuming the author is aware of catalysts, photosynthesis and enzymes. And, hopefully about "statistical methods" in these sciences. If not, perhaps he should be learning before writing. 3) We see this phenomena all the time regarding climate science arguments in which the model makers seem to be incensed that the real world is not conforming their behavior to the models. Then the models are wrong / incomplete... Not that reality is "misbehaving". Duh !!! 2) One must note that this what is typically measured as the sum of the many millions / billions of molecules properties is its' "bulk" properties. But, within that population of molecules exists a range of molecules with both higher than and lower than average energy state (gaussian distribution) with some being above the activation energy threshold. We know of this phenomenon from the branch of physical chemistry and engineering known as "statistical thermodynamics". Of course, if only a very small # of molecules exceed the required activation energy, the reaction will proceed extremely slowly.
Randy Moe
This has many implications and possibilities. We are just starting a long strange trip, which only visionaries saw, and now...