Everybody has learned in their science classes that water is a conductor of electricity. We may think that knowledge about this fact is common sense, but what many don’t know is that no one has actually been able to explain how water molecules are able to transfer protons from one molecule to another during conductivity—until now.
Yale University chemistry professor Mark Johnson and his team of researchers were able to take spectroscopic snapshots of this electron transference occurring in water molecules—for the first time! For over 200 years this phenomenon, named the Grotthuss mechanism, has baffled many scientists and researchers.
According to Anne McCoy from the University of Washington, “This fundamental process in chemistry and biology has eluded a firm explanation,”
After years of studying the chemistry of water, Johnson’s team had an edge over the matter. They were able to freeze the chemical process in a way that the molecules will be able to be captured in their transient states so as to reveal the structural changes that is occurring in the Grotthuss mechanism. The team only used a few “heavy water” molecules and froze them at absolute zero so that they could sharpen the images.
Source: Science Alert
This study was published in Science. “In essence, we uncovered a kind of Rosetta Stone that reveals the structural information encoded in color,” according to Johnson. “We were able to reveal a sequence of concerted deformations, like the frames of a movie.”
With this discovery, we are able to know more about water and its conductive properties. “And now we have the missing piece that gives us the bigger picture: how protons essentially ‘move’ through water,” McCoy said.
What’s additionally amazing is not just the discovery itself, but the technique the team used as well. The technique they used allows us to peak into different properties of water, like its second liquid form and its ability to turn solid at boiling point when found in carbon nanotubes. It also allows us to study the mysteries behind other subjects.
This information may seem very simple, but remember, it is in studying the fundamental processes that we sometimes discover more about what we are studying and the world around us. By carefully studying such simple materials such as water and its conductive processes, may open the doors to finding ways to understand other materials.