Menlo Park, Calif.Water is familiar to everyoneit shapes our bodies and our planet. But despite this abundance, the molecular structure of water has remained a mystery, with the substance exhibiting many strange properties that are still poorly understood. Recent work at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and several universities in Sweden and Japan, however, is shedding new light on water's molecular idiosyncrasies, offering insight into its strange bulk properties.
In all, water exhibits 66 known anomalies, including a strangely varying density, large heat capacity and high surface tension. Contrary to other "normal" liquids, which become denser as they get colder, water reaches its maximum density at about 4 Celsius. Above and below this temperature, water is less dense; this is why, for example, lakes freeze from the surface down. Water also has an unusually large capacity to store heat, which stabilizes the temperature of the oceans, and a high surface tension, which allows insects to walk on water, droplets to form and trees to transport water to great heights.
"Understanding these anomalies is very important because water is the ultimate basis for our existence: no water, no life," said SLAC scientist Anders Nilsson, who is leading the experimental efforts. "Our work helps explain these anomalies on the molecular level at temperatures which are relevant to life."
How the molecules arrange themselves in water's solid form, ice, was long ago established: the molecules form a tight "tetrahedral" lattice, with each molecule binding to four others. Discovering the molecular arrangement in liquid water, however, is proving to be much more complex. For over 100 years, this structure has been the subject of intense debate. The current textbook model holds that, since ice is made up of tetrahedral structures, liquid water should be similar, but less structured since heat creates disorder and breaks bond
|Contact: Melinda Lee|
DOE/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory