A team of scientists has made a huge discovery about the nature of water molecules.
A team of researchers working at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory has made a fascinating discovery. According to a Tech Times report, scientists have described a new tunneling state of water molecules in microscopic hexagonal channels inside of the mineral beryl.
The study, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, describes what happens when a water molecule is confined to an area just 5 angstroms across. One angstrom is equivalent to 1/10-billionth of a meter. Under such tight conditions, water molecules were shown to behave differently than any known gas, liquid or solid state.
According to the study’s lead author Alexander Kolesnikov from the Chemical and Engineering Materials Division at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “At low temperatures, this tunneling water exhibits quantum motion through the separating potential walls, which is forbidden in the classical world. 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. It’s one of those phenomena that only occur in quantum mechanics and has no parallel in our everyday experience.”
Scientists hope the discovery will shed new light on the thermodynamic properties and behavior of water in tight spaces. This could have exciting implications for researchers studying water diffusion across cell membranes, carbon nanotubes, and geological barriers.
Quantum tunneling has been demonstrated with hydrogen atoms before, but this is the first time the phenomenon has been observed with water. In the recent study, scientists observed water molecules forming around a ring while in their tunneling state, causing them to take on a bizarre shape that resembles a double top.
“The average kinetic energy of the water protons directly obtained from the neuton experiment is a measure of their motion at almost absolute zero temperature and is about 30 percent less than it is in bulk liquid or solid water,” said Kolesnikov. “This is in complete disagreement with accepted models based on the energies of its vibrational modes.”
A press release from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory describing the details of the study can be found here.