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New Study Visualizes Motion of Water Molecules, Promises New Wave of Electronic Devices

December 22, 2017

A high-resolution closeup of water droplets. Image Credit: ORNL

A novel approach to studying the viscosity of water has revealed new insights about the behavior of water molecules and may open pathways for liquid-based electronics. 

A team of researchers led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a high-resolution inelastic X-ray scattering technique to measure the strong bond involving a hydrogen atom sandwiched between two oxygen atoms. This hydrogen bond is a quantum-mechanical phenomenon responsible for various properties of water, including viscosity, which determines a liquid’s resistance to flow or to change shape.

While water is the most abundant substance on Earth, its behavior at a molecular level is not well understood.

“Despite all what we know about water, it is a mysterious, atypical substance that we need to better understand to unlock its vast potential, particularly in information and energy technologies,” said Takeshi Egami, University of Tennessee-ORNL Distinguished Scientist/Professor working through the Shull Wollan Center – a Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences, an ORNL-UT partnership.

The team’s study, published in Science Advances, demonstrated that it is possible to probe real-space, real-time dynamics of water and other liquids. Previous studies have provided snapshots of water’s atomic structure, but little is known about how water molecules move.


Related Publication: Iwashita, T. et. al. (2017). Seeing Real-Space Dynamics of Liquid Water Through Inelastic X-ray Scattering. Science Advances, 3(12). doi:10.1126/sciadv.1603079