Good Water Exercises
It will be seen in the RBTH paper that there is no doubt whatsoever that water near our ambient conditions has several different structures. By far the biggest of the scientific issues remaining concerns the kinetics of change of one such structure or large cluster to another.
This blog is about the relation of water to human healing. Water is the largest component of the human body. But what is it about this liquid that can make it a healing vector?
First, of course, water, being the amazing solvent that it is (because of its extraordinarily high dielectric constant), does take into solution a great deal of the other materials that come into contact with it. This fact has tended to emphasize the composition the “purity,” if you will of the water as its most important descriptor. That’s the problem. Composition, especially slight changes of it, is rarely important in altering the properties of a liquid or solid. One reason is that all such variations are incremental, continuous, and slight. But changes in structure can be dramatic. One example will do to make my point: The element carbon exists in many solid forms, including graphite and diamond, meaning that the nearly softest and the hardest (so far) materials on the planet have an identical composition. Here we have exactly the same composition of matter, easily transformed from one structure in milliseconds to the other, with this incredible difference in properties. So if you’re interested in water, you’ll have to pay attention to its structure.
The paper and this essay start by distinguishing the way materials scientists and chemists define the term structure. Essentially, all previous literature on water structure has been dominated by chemists, who equate the term with the identification of the molecular species present in the vapor, in the liquid, at its surface, or in some specific environment. Literally dozens of such molecular species have been identified, calculated, or inferred. For hundreds of precise illustrations of proposed structures of the H2O molecule and the assumed dimers, trimers tetramers, and on and on, the gold standard of references is the Website maintained by Professor Martin Chaplin in London (see Bibliography).
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Since nearly 100 percent of the literature deals with the size and shape of the building blocks of the condensed matter (liquid), what’s studied very little is the materials scientist’s approach to the structure of condensed matter the arrangement of these building blocks in 3-D space. The two views can be sharply distinguished by using this analogy: Consider the radical differences between the structure of the building blocks and the building itself. One doesn’t describe the structure of Notre Dame or the Taj Mahal by saying that they consist of limestone, sandstone, or marble blocks and giving details of the size and shape of these blocks. We know that the structure of these buildings is of the whole, not of the parts. Or consider the pieces or blocks in a Lego set (= molecules) (the chemists’ approach) and the “structure” of the house or car or plane (= clusters) that a child builds with the same blocks.
This materials-science approach to the structure of a liquidany liquid of course is extremely difficult here, simply because water is a liquid. That means that the units or building blocks do not repeat in any periodic manner in their 3-D arrangement. This periodic-arrangement state is the property of virtually all of Earth’s inorganic matter 99.99 percent of it! The units are crystalline.
The aperiodic state the noncrystalline state, also called, imprecisely, the “glassy state” which is the common structure of all liquids, poses a nearly insuperable barrier to the main scientific tools for determining structure all the diffraction methods, x-ray, electrons, neutrons and water’s low viscosity doesn’t help. Of course there are other techniques spectroscopies of all kinds but they are poor substitutes for diffraction. Also, there are enormous resources available by analogy from the extensive 100-year research on the structure of glasses and other liquidlike phases, especially those of SiO2, with its close similarity to H2O. The nearly ubiquitous structural heterogeneity in similar covalently bonded liquids, even of elements (such as S, Se, Te, and the like), is also a major hint of the possibilities for a variety of structures in water, however long they last.
Very useful lessons can be learned about the structure of water from the enormous literature on SiO2 and silicate minerals and glasses. These are slowly being rediscovered. The first major learning is that most common glasses are highly heterogeneous in structure, consisting of 5-50 nm clusters with different structures. Another little-known example is the effect of pressure on liquid structures such as the thoroughly studied SiO2-glass, which shows the change of properties and structures with pressure in SiO2 and related glasses. (These data are largely from my own laboratories in the 1960s and 1970s and the references are all in the Roy, Bell, Tiller, Hoover 2005 paper.)
In the same vein, by the 1980s the most experienced analysts of the structure of glasses had concluded that they nearly all exhibited a mixture of different structures at the few nanometer level. Most glasses especially those containing SiO2 with its close similarity to H2O therefore were nanoheterogeneous, consisting of islands of different structure. Glassy water exhibits a whole range of properties very similar to glassy silicates. There is little reason, therefore, to doubt that liquid water carries at least some of the vestiges of this fundamental nanoheterogeneity.