Physicists just discovered something huge—this could change everything we know about H2O! It’s amazing that one of the most fundamental compounds on Earth can still hold so much mystery. Water makes up 60% of the human body, yet new research indicates we haven’t quite grasped all of its physical properties.
According to reports, researchers recently discovered that when water is heated to between 40 and 60 degrees Celsius, it reaches a ‘crossover temperature.’ At this point, it begins to switch between two different states of liquid.
This discovery challenges our understanding of the three basic states of H2O: solid, liquid, and gas. While we’ve been aware of some complexities (water can enter a plasma-like state, for instance), recent observations indicate we may have been underestimating its properties altogether.
“No one really understands water,” Philip Ball explained in Nature. “It’s embarrassing to admit it, but the stuff that covers two-thirds of our planet is still a mystery. Worse, the more we look, the more the problems accumulate: new techniques probing deeper into the molecular architecture of liquid water are throwing up more puzzles.”
An international team led by physicist Laura Maestro from the University of Oxford in the UK is investigating a number of specific properties of water. They are studying things like thermal conductivity, refractive index, conductivity, surface tension, and the dielectric constant (how well an electric field can spread through a substance). Observing how these components responded to fluctuations in temperature have led to some shocking discoveries.
Reportedly, once the water hit 40 degrees, things started to shift—and properties continued to change all the way up to 60 degrees. Each property had a slightly different ‘crossover temperature’ within this range. Researchers suggest that the water had switched into a different phase.
So what, exactly, is happening here?
So what, exactly, is happening here? Scientists are still putting their finger on it, but the discovery could explain why H2O has such unusual properties in general. Water molecules, for instance, only maintain very short-lived connections between each other. These hydrogen bonds are much weaker than those that link individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms. That means that the bonds are constantly breaking and reforming—but not without set structures and ‘rules.’
“Everyone is agreed that one aspect of water’s molecular structure sets it apart from most other liquids: fleeting hydrogen bonds,” Ball continues in Nature. “These feeble bonds that link the molecules constantly break and form above water’s melting point, yet still impose a degree of structure on the molecular jumble. That’s where the consensus ends.”
Before we start rewriting the textbooks, the results from Maestro’s team will need to be replicated by an independent team. One thing is certain: if true, this discovery could have big implications for our understanding of both nano and biological systems.
This research was originally published in the International Journal of Nanotechnology.