Scientists recently discovered a new phase of liquid water. States of matter, also called “phases”, are a key concept in the study of systems made from atoms and molecules. Generally speaking, a system formed from many molecules can be arranged in a certain number of configurations depending on its total energy. Better known as a transition phase, this new state of matter is seen switching between two different liquid states at certain temperatures – between 40°C and 60°C (104°F to 140°F).
The various properties had different corresponding crossover temperatures as well. Thermal conductivity was 64°C (147°F), surface tension was 57°C (135°F), refractive index was 50°C (122°F), and electrical conductivity was 53°C (127°F). The newly discovered second state of liquid water has also revealed that water does not behave the same as other liquids.
What’s So Special About Water?
Water is simple, yet still complex and acts like more of a liquid-crystal like structure, almost marrying the solid and liquid states to create its own one-of-a-kind state. This gives water properties that, in many cases, break the trends observed for other simple liquids. For example, unlike most other substances, a fixed mass of water takes up more room as a solid (ice) than as a liquid because of the way it molecules form a specific regular structure. Another example is the surface tension of liquid water, which is roughly twice that of other non-polar, simpler, liquids.
Water has the highest surface tension of all liquids, with the exclusion of Mercury. It’s also one of the only known substances whose solid state can float on its liquid state, and unlike almost every other known substance, water expands when it freezes. The hydrogen bonds between molecules keep some order at low temperatures, but eventually could take a second, less-ordered liquid phase at higher temperatures.
What Does This Mean Going Forward?
The findings have been published in the International Journal of Nanotechnology by University of Oxford’s Laura Maestro and her team. In the findings, Maestro states that “the existence of these two states in liquid water plays an important role in nanometric and biological systems.” Due to the fact that biological systems are mostly made of water, this discovery will likely have an impact. Furthermore, if changes in the environment, such as temperature, cause changes in a substance’s physical properties, then this can potentially be used for sensing applications as well. Understanding how water molecules arrange themselves on average at different temperatures could give us more insight on how they interact in biological and nanotechnological systems.
Are Their Benefits to This Second State of Liquid Water?
Although the specific impacts we will likely see are not entirely known, this discovery is still revolutionary and is making water even more special than we already know it to be. Through more experiments and analyzing projects and data in the future, we will surely encounter more of the secrets water hides within itself. What is seen as such a simple liquid to us that we take for granted everyday, is now beginning to show more of its mystery and beauty.