Water Has An Amazing Fourth State — Ice, Steam, Liquid, And Now Tunneling

Researchers have found that water has a bizarre fourth state. In addition to the familiar states of liquid, ice, and steam, with their transition points marked by the familiar freezing and boiling points on the Kelvin and Celsius scales, water has a fourth state, tunneling.

[S]cientists 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.

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It is not a simple temperature change that will allow you to observe water in its tunneling state — water must be confined to an incredibly small place under great pressure before it will exhibit tunneling, according to Gizmag.

“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.”

The term tunneling is already familiar to quantum physicists. What is incredible about these water molecules is that, when confined in these small spaces inside the beryl mineral, they exhibited behavior previously exhibited only at the quantum level, which is a far smaller scale still.

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…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.

The behavior was so incredible that researchers dubbed it “a fourth state” for water molecules.

The researchers realized they have found a new state for water molecules. They came to their finding after subjecting water molecules to extreme confinement.

The research paper was published in the journal Physical Review Letters. The scientists provide more detail about how the water molecules behaved in the fourth state. Apparently, after they were tightly confined in the nanoscale tubes, the water molecules became delocalized around a ring. Each water molecule arranged itself into “a shape similar to an unusual double top.” The particles were about one angstrom, or one 110-billionth of a meter, reports NH Voice.

“The discovery of spread of water molecules when confined was much unexpected and it broke the rules of classical physics.”

ORNL instrument scientist Alexander Kolesnikov, the lead author of the paper, told reporters that the beryl-trapped water molecules acted according to quantum – not classical – laws of physics.

“In classical physics the atom cannot jump over a barrier if it does not have enough energy for this. 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.”

The water molecules in question had been confined in six-sided channels in the mineral beryl.

Such beryl particles form the basis for the gems aquamarine and emerald, prompting ORNL co-author Lawrence Anovitz to reflect that some incredible quantum-like effects have probably been taking place in gemstone rings and necklaces around the world.

“This discovery represents a new fundamental understanding of the behavior of water and the way water utilizes energy. 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.”

Anovitz, Kolesnikov, and their team used neutron-scattering experiments to observe that the water molecules had spread themselves into two concentric, corrugated rings. It was actually the hydrogen atom, one third of the water molecule, which exhibited the tunneling, taking on six different orientations at one time, reports Phys.

“Tunneling among these orientations means the hydrogen atom is not located at one position, but smeared out in a ring shape.”

The team reflected that water must utilize energy in ways scientists do not yet fully understand. Kolesnikov said that the “average kinetic energy of the water protons directly obtained from the neutron 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.”

Quantum effects are normally understood in terms of the intricate vibrational modes, spin states, and degrees of freedom of particles involved. The researchers did not expect to see such behavior exhibited by molecules with a kinetic energy that was “30 per cent less than it is in bulk liquid or solid water.”

“This is in complete disagreement with accepted models based on the energies of its vibrational modes.”

Separate research at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology and University of Washington-Bothell shows that the tunneling behavior must be “coupled to the vibrational dynamics of the beryl structure.”

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[Photo By Sean Scott/Getty Images]