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Scientists Discover New Properties Of Water

Aug 14, 2018 10:26 PM EDT
Scientists are still finding new things to discover about the element of water. In a new study, a team from NYU revealed new molecular properties that could have a great impact on clean energy and other technology.
(Photo : Rony Michaud | Pixabay)

Water is one of the most basic, essential elements of life, but there are still some of its characteristics that are a mystery.

Scientists from the New York University have recently discovered new properties of water molecules that could open the doors to a fresh understanding of fluids as well as new technological applications.

Finding The Asymmetry

It's commonly known that water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom — hence, H2O. Scientists have also long established liquid water as an excellent transporter of its autoionization products, which are the current produced when a water molecule is split into H+ and OH-.

These divided ions get transported via hydrogen bonds to join other molecules, according to NYU. For a long time, it was believed that H+ and OH- were mirror images of each other, getting transported in the same way and at the same speeds. The only difference, scientists thought, was the direction.

However, recent computer models suggest that there is a fundamental asymmetry in the transport mechanisms of these ions. It turns out, H+ and OH- don't behave as identically as previously assumed.

Proving The Asymmetry

The prediction obtained from the computer models has been a challenge to prove due to the difficulties involved in observing two ionic species.

In the new study published in the journal Physical Review Letters, a team of scientists finally find a way to prove the asymmetry with an innovative experiment that includes cooling liquid water to its maximum density temperature, which is 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Fahrenheit). At this temperature, the asymmetry is most pronounced and could be most effectively detected.

This is another strange property of water: frozen water or ice is less dense than liquid water, unlike most substances that become denser in their crystalline form.

At this maximum density state, the NYU team used nuclear magnetic resonance to observe the H+ and OH- ions and the difference in lifetimes between the two. A greater the lifetime of the ion indicates a slower transport before it becomes part of other water molecules once more.

The scientists found that OH- is significantly slower than H+ at 4 degrees Celsius.

Furthermore, the team suggests that the asymetry could be linked to the strange density behavior of water.

Practical Value Of The Study

The properties of water are endlessly significant in a wide variety of areas of study. This particular study's findings are expected to resonate in a good chunk of sciences as well as technological advances.

"We are currently seeking new ways to exploit the asymmetry between H+ and OH- transport to design new materials for clean energy applications, and knowing that we are starting with a correct model i[s] central to our continued progress," coauthor Mark Tuckerman, a professor of chemistry and mathematics at NYU, explains.

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