This story probably wasn’t on the front page of your local newspaper, but it is huge news in the science community and something that will most likely impact you at some point in the future. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, a new state of matter has been discovered!
Scientists have water molecules (and their own inventiveness) to thank for this new state of matter. By squeezing H2O molecules together in a particular way, a new matter state that doesn’t follow the laws of solids, liquids and gases now exists. The way in which the water molecules were combined was not random, however. Scientists pushed them together into small cracks, just like those that exist in nature. After doing this, they observed the hydrogen and oxygen atoms acting very strangely.
It wasn’t entirely surprising to the physicists who discovered this new state of matter, however. They were working in the arena of quantum physics where the rule book of the Universe is often tossed to the side, as behavior is sometimes quite unpredictable. Although the team is early on in the analysis phase of this process, the hope is that this discovery will help us learn more about how water acts in very small spaces.
The scientists didn’t simply grab a hose and spray water into cracks in their driveway, however. It was, of course, much more deliberate than that. The team, who is from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, forced water molecules down channels made from beryl, a mineral whose green variety is known as an emerald. The channels were only five angstroms wide, which in laymen’s terms is about one ten-billionth of a meter. Channels this small are often found in the soil and in cell walls.
While in this channel, the water molecule exhibited very strange behavior. The hydrogen atoms appeared in six different symmetric orientations simultaneously instead of remaining fixed, while the oxygen atom was in the middle of this action. The number of symmetric orientations coincides with the same number of different walls of the channel. While moving along the channel, the hydrogen atoms shift through all of the different possible positions and its temperature increases simultaneously.
The really odd thing that occurred during the experiment, however, is that the water molecules’ center of mass moved to the oxygen atom in the center. Usually, the center of mass would move to the hydrogen atoms. Since the molecule is in a symmetric pattern now, there is no electric dipole movement. This just means that negative and positive charges in the atoms are balanced, so it shouldn’t try to bond with other atoms or molecules.
What, exactly, does this new state of matter mean for you? Well, right now, not a whole heck of a lot, as the scientists are still trying to find meaning behind it themselves. The experiment was done in such a way that this type of event will only occur in quantum mechanics and can’t really mirror anything in our day to day lives. The next question is why water behaved as it did in such confined spaces, but that’s research for another day.