Scientists discover new 'tunneling' state of water molecules

Last Updated: Apr 26, 2016, 16:14 PM IST
Scientists discover new 'tunneling' state of water molecules

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: Water is life. It is one of the few substances that can exist in all three forms of matter i.e. solid, liquid or gas.

But a recent discovery done by a team of scientists, including one of Indian origin, reveals an unmatched and unique property of water that defies its fundamental definition.

According to the findings, in extreme confined spaces water molecules spread out forming a 'tunnel' – like structure. The most shocking fact is that 'tunneling' of water molecules is an entirely new thing and does not match with the solid, liquid or gaseous state of water.

The researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s ,Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) found that water molecules confined in hexagonal ultra-small channels – 5 angstrom across – of the mineral beryl.

An angstrom is 1/10-billionth of a meter, and individual atoms are typically about 1 angstrom in diameter.

"At low temperatures, this tunneling water exhibits quantum motion through the separating potential walls, which is forbidden in the classical world," said lead author Alexander Kolesnikov of ORNL's Chemical and Engineering Materials Division.
"This means that the oxygen and hydrogen atoms of the water molecule are 'delocalised' 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," said Kolesnikov.

This study, published in Physical Review Letters, will help scientists to deeply understand the thermodynamic properties and behaciour of water in highly confined environments such as water diffusiin and transports in channels of cell membrane, in carbon nanotubes and along grain boundaries and at mineral interfaces in a host of geological environments.