Does water have a fourth phase, beyond solid, liquid and vapor?
Dr. Gerald Pollack
University of Washington Bioengineering Professor Gerald Pollack answers this question, and intrigues us to consider the implications of this finding.
99% of your molecules are water (2/3rds water, but because H2O is so small, that makes it 99%.
Not all water is H2O, a radical departure from what you may have learned from textbooks.
Pollack received his PhD in biomedical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. He then joined the University of Washington faculty and is now professor of Bioengineering. His interests have ranged broadly, from biological motion and cell biology to the interaction of biological surfaces with aqueous solutions. His 1990 book, Muscles and Molecules: Uncovering the Principles of Biological Motion, won an “Excellence Award” from the Society for Technical Communication; his more recent book, Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life, won that Society’s “Distinguished Award.”
Pollack received an honorary doctorate in 2002 from Ural State University in Ekaterinburg, Russia, and was more recently named an Honorary Professor of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He received the Biomedical Engineering Society’s Distinguished Lecturer Award in 2002. In 2008, he was the faculty member selected by the University of Washington faculty to receive their highest annual distinction: the Faculty Lecturer Award. Pollack is a Founding Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and a Fellow of both the American Heart Association and the Biomedical Engineering Society. He is also Founding Editor-in-Chief of the journal, WATER, and has recently received an NIH Transformative R01 Award. He was the 2012 recipient of the Prigogine Medal and in 2013 published his new book: The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor.
0:00Transcriber: Robert Tucker Reviewer: Alessandra Tadiotto
0:04Water is quite beautiful to look at,
0:08and I guess you probably all know that you’re two-thirds water —
0:15you do, don’t you? Right.
0:18But you may not know that because the water molecule is so small,
0:23that two-thirds translates into 99% of your molecules.
0:28Think of it, 99% percent of your molecules are water.
0:32So, your shoes are carrying around a blob of water essentially.
0:39Now, the question is, in your cells,
0:42do those water molecules actually do something?
0:47Are these molecules essentially jobless
0:49or do they do something that might be really, really interesting?
0:54For that matter are we even really sure that water is H₂O?
1:00We read about that in the textbook,
1:01but is it possible that some water is actually not H₂O?
1:06So, these are questions whose answers are actually not as simple
1:11as you think they might be.
1:14In fact, we’re really in the dark about water, we know so little.
1:17And why do we know so little?
1:19Well, you probably think that water is so pervasive,
1:23and it’s such a simple molecule,
1:25that everything ought to be known about water, right?
1:28I mean you’d think it’s all there.
1:30Well, scientists think the same.
1:32Many scientists think, och, water it’s so simple,
1:35that everything must be known.
1:37And, in fact, that’s not at all the case.
1:40So, let me show you, to start with, a few examples of things about water
1:44that we ought to know, but we really haven’t a clue.
1:47Here’s something that you see every day.
1:49You see a cloud in the sky and, probably, you haven’t asked the question:
1:54How does the water get there?
1:56Why, I mean, there’s only one cloud sitting there,
2:00and the water is evaporating everywhere,
2:02why does it go to this cloud forming what you see there?
2:06So, another question: Could you imagine droplets floating on water?
2:12We expect droplets to coalesce instantly with the water.
2:18The droplets persist for a long time.
2:20And here’s another example of walking on water.
2:22This is a lizard from Central America.
2:28And because it walks on water it’s called the Jesus Christ lizard.
2:32At first you’ll say, “Well, I know the answer to this,
2:35the surface tension is high in water.”
2:38But the common idea of surface tension
2:41is that there’s a single molecular layer of water at the top,
2:45and this single molecular layer is sufficient to create enough tension
2:49to hold whatever you put there.
2:51I think this is an example that doesn’t fit that.
2:53And here’s another example.
2:55Two beakers of water. You put two electrodes in,
2:58and you put high voltage between them and then what happens is a bridge forms,
3:03and this bridge is made of water, a bridge of water.
3:06And this bridge can be sustained
3:08as you move one beaker away from the other beaker,
3:11as much as 4 centimeters,
3:13sustained essentially indefinitely.
3:15How come we don’t understand this?
3:18So, what I mean is that there are lots of things about water
3:21that we should understand, but we don’t understand,
3:24we really don’t know.
3:27So, okay, so what do we know about water?
3:30Well, you’ve learned that the water molecule
3:33contains an oxygen and two hydrogens.
3:36That you learn in the textbooks. We know that.
3:39We also know there are many water molecules,
3:42and these water molecules are actually moving around microscopically.
3:46So, we know that. What don’t we know about water?
3:50Well, we don’t know anything about the social behavior of water.
3:54What do I mean by social? Well, say, sitting at the bar
3:56and chatting with your neighbor.
3:58We don’t know how water molecules actually share information or interact,
4:03and also we don’t know about the actual movements of water molecules.
4:09How water molecules interact with one another,
4:12and also how water molecules interact with other molecules
4:16like that purple one sitting there. Unknown.
4:20Also the phases of water.
4:23We’ve all learned that there’s a solid phase,
4:27a liquid phase and a vapor phase.
4:30However, a hundred years ago,
4:33there was some idea that there might be a fourth phase,
4:36somewhere in between a solid and a liquid.
4:39Sir William Hardy, a famous physical chemist,
4:42a hundred years ago exactly,
4:44professed that there was actually a fourth phase of water,
4:47and this water was kind of more ordered than other kinds of water,
4:52and in fact had a gel-like consistency.
4:56So, the question arose to us —
4:58you know, all of this was forgotten, because people began, as methods improved,
5:04to begin to study molecules instead of ensembles of molecules,
5:08and people forgot about the collectivity of water molecules
5:11and began looking, the same as in biology,
5:14began looking at individual molecules and lost sight of the collection.
5:18So, we thought we’re going to look at this
5:21because we had some idea that it’s possible
5:24that this missing link, this fourth phase,
5:27might actually be the missing link
5:30so that we can understand the phenomena regarding water that we don’t understand.
5:35So, we started by looking somewhere between a solid and a liquid.
5:40And the first experiments that we did get us going.
5:43We took a gel, that’s the solid, and we put it next to water.
5:47And we added some particles to the water
5:49because we had the sense that particles would show us something.
5:54And you can see what happened
5:55is that the particles began moving away from the interface
6:00between the gel and the water,
6:02and they just kept moving and moving and moving.
6:04And they wound up stopping at a distance
6:06that’s roughly the size of one of your hairs.
6:10Now, that may seem small, but by molecular dimensions
6:14that’s practically infinite. It’s a huge dimension.
6:18So, we began studying the properties of this zone,
6:21and we called it, for obvious reasons, the exclusion zone,
6:25because practically everything you put there would get excluded,
6:28would get expelled from the zone as it builds up,
6:31or instead of exclusion zone, EZ for short.
6:36And so we found that the kinds of materials
6:39that would create or nucleate this kind of zone,
6:42not just gels, but we found that practically every water-loving,
6:47or so-called hydrophilic surface could do exactly that,
6:51creating the EZ water.
6:52And as the EZ water builds, it would expel all the solutes
6:56or particles, whatever into the bulk water.
7:00We began learning about properties, and we’ve spent now quite a few years
7:04looking at the properties.
7:06And it looks something like this:
7:08You have a material next to water and these sheets of EZ layers begin to build,
7:15and they build and build and they just keep building up one by one.
7:19So, if you look at the structure of each one of these planes,
7:25you can see that it’s a honeycomb, hexagonal kind of structure,
7:29a bit like ice, but not ice.
7:32And, if you look at it carefully, you can see the molecular structures.
7:36So, of course, it consists of hydrogen and oxygen,
7:39because it’s built from water.
7:40But, actually, they’re not water molecules.
7:43If you start counting the number of hydrogens
7:46and the number of oxygens,
7:48it turns out that it’s not H₂O.
7:51It’s actually H₃O₂.
7:54So, it is possible that there’s water that’s not H₂O, a phase of water.
7:59So, we began looking, of course, more into these extremely interesting properties.
8:05And what we found is, if we stuck electrodes into the EZ water,
8:09because we thought there might be some electrical potential,
8:12it turned out that there’s lots of negative charge in that zone.
8:17And we used some dyes to seek positive charge,
8:20and we found that in the bulk water zone there was an equal amount of positivity.
8:25So, what’s going on?
8:26It looked like, that next to these interfaces
8:29the water molecule was somehow splitting up
8:32into a negative part and a positive part.
8:35And the negative part sat right next to the water-loving material.
8:41Positive charges went out beyond that.
8:46We found it’s the same, you didn’t need a straight interface,
8:51you could also have a sphere.
8:52So, you put a sphere in the water, and any sphere that’s suspended in the water
8:57develops one of these exclusion zones, EZ’s, around it, with the negative charge,
9:01beyond that is all the positive charge. Charge separation.
9:06It didn’t have to be only a material sphere, in fact,
9:10you could put a droplet in there, a water droplet,
9:12or, in fact, even a bubble, you’d get the same result.
9:15Surrounding each one of these entities is a negative charge
9:18and the separated positive charge.
9:21So, here’s a question for you.
9:24If you take two of these negatively charged entities,
9:29and you drop them in a beaker of water near each other,
9:32what happens to the distance between them?
9:35I bet that 95% of you would say:
9:39Well, that’s easy, I learned in physics, negative and negative repel each other,
9:43so, therefore they’re going to go apart from one another, right?
9:46That what you’d guess?
9:49Well, the actual result if you think about it,
9:51is that it’s not only the negative charge but you also have positive charge.
9:56And the positive charge is especially concentrated
9:59in between those two spheres,
10:01because they come from contributions from both of those spheres.
10:04So, there are a lot of them there.
10:06When you have positive in between two negatives
10:10what happens is that you get an attractive force.
10:12And so you expect these two spheres to actually come together
10:17despite the fact that they have the same charge,
10:19and that’s exactly what happens.
10:20It’s been known for for many years.
10:23They come together, and if you have many of them, instead of just two of them,
10:27you’ll get something that looks like this.
10:29They’ll come together and this is called a colloid crystal.
10:33It’s a stable structure.
10:34In fact, the yogurt that you might have had this morning
10:37probably consists of what you see right here.
10:41So, they come together because of the opposite charge.
10:44The same thing is true if you have droplets.
10:47They come together because of the opposing charges.
10:50So, when you think of droplets, and aerosol droplets in the air,
10:55and think about the cloud,
10:57it’s actually the reason that these aerosol droplets come together
11:01is because of this opposite charge.
11:03So, the droplets from the air, similarly charged,
11:06come together coalesce, giving you that cloud in the sky.
11:11So the fourth phase, or EZ phase, actually explains quite a lot.
11:16It explains, for example, the cloud.
11:20It’s the positive charge
11:22that draws these negatively charged EZ shells together
11:25to give you a condensed cloud that you see up in the sky.
11:28In terms of the water droplets,
11:30the reason that these are sustained on the surface
11:33for actually sometimes as long as tens of seconds —
11:36and you can see it if you’re in a boat
11:39and it’s raining, you can sometimes see this on the surface of the lake,
11:45these droplets are sustained for some time —
11:47and the reason they’re sustained is that each droplet contains this shell,
11:51this EZ shell, and the shell has to be breached
11:54in order for the water to coalesce with the water beneath.
11:58Now, in terms of the Jesus Christ lizard, the reason the lizard can walk,
12:02it’s not because of one single molecular layer,
12:05but there are many EZ layers lining the surface,
12:08and these are gel-like, they’re stiffer than ordinary surfaces
12:13so, therefore, you can float a coin on the surface of the water,
12:17you can float a paperclip,
12:18although if put it beneath the surface it sinks right down to the bottom.
12:22it’s because of that.
12:24And in terms of the water bridge,
12:28If you think of it as plain old, liquid, bulk water — hard to understand.
12:33But if you think of it as EZ water and a gel-like character,
12:37then you can understand how it could be sustained with almost no droop,
12:41a very stiff structure.
12:44Okay, so, all well and good, but why is this useful for us?
12:50What can we do with it?
12:51Well, we can get energy from water.
12:55In fact, the energy that we can get from water is free energy.
12:59It’s literally free. We can take it from the environment.
13:02Let me explain.
13:03So, you have a situation in the diagram with negative charge and positive charge,
13:10and when you have two opposing charges next to each other
13:13it’s like battery.
13:15So, really we have a battery made of water.
13:20And you can extract charge from it,
13:22so that is right now.
13:26Batteries run down, like your cell phone needs to be plugged in every day or two,
13:32and so the question is: Well, what charges this water battery?
13:37It took us a while to figure that out, what recharges the battery.
13:41And one day, we’re doing an experiment, and a student in the lab walks by
13:46and he has this lamp.
13:48And he takes the lamp and he shines it on the specimen,
13:51and where the light was shining we found that the exclusion zone grew,
13:56grew by leaps and bounds.
13:57So, we thought, aha, it looks like light,
14:00and we’ve many experiments to show,
14:02that the energy for building this comes from light.
14:06It comes not only from the direct light, but also indirect light.
14:10What do I mean by indirect light?
14:12Well, what I mean is that the indirect light
14:15is, for example, infrared light that exists all over this auditorium.
14:22If we were to turn out all the lights, including the floodlights,
14:25and I pulled out my infrared camera and looked at the audience,
14:30you’d see a very clear, bright image.
14:33And if I looked at the walls you’d see a very clear image.
14:36And the reason for that is that everything is giving off infrared energy.
14:43You’re giving off infrared energy.
14:45That’s the energy that’s most effective
14:48in building this charge separation and this fourth phase.
14:54So, in other words you have the material, you have the EZ water,
14:59and you collect energy from outside,
15:01and as you collect the energy from outside,
15:03the exclusion zone builds.
15:05And if you a take away that extra energy, it will go back to its normal size.
15:11So, this battery is basically charged by light, by the sun.
15:17It’s a gift from the sun.
15:19If you think about it, what’s going on,
15:22if you think about the plant that you have sitting in your kitchen,
15:27you’re getting light, you know where the energy comes from,
15:30the energy comes from the light.
15:32It’s the photons that hit the plant, that supply all the energy, right?
15:36And the plant converts it to chemical energy,
15:40the light energy to chemical energy, and the chemical energy
15:42is then used to do growth and metabolism and bending and what-have-you.
15:47That we all know, it’s very common.
15:49What I’m suggesting to you from our results,
15:52is that the same thing happens in water.
15:55No surprise, because the plant is mostly water,
16:00suggesting to you that energy is coming in from outside,
16:03light energy, infrared energy, radiant energy basically,
16:08and the water is absorbing the energy
16:10and converting that energy into some sort of useful work.
16:14And so we come to the equation E = H₂O.
16:18A bit different from the equation that you’re familiar with.
16:22But I think it really is true that you can’t separate energy from water;
16:27water is a repository of energy coming free from the environment.
16:34Now can we harvest some of this energy, or is it just totally useless?
16:39Well, we can do that because you have a negative zone and a positive zone.
16:44And if you put two electrodes in, you can get energy, right?
16:48Just like a battery.
16:50And we’ve done that and we were able to,
16:52for example, have a every simple optical display.
16:56It can be run from the energy that you can get from here.
16:59And obviously we need to build it up into something bigger and more major
17:03in order to get the energy.
17:04This is free energy and it comes from water.
17:08Another opportunity we’ve been developing
17:13is getting drinking — clear, free, drinking water.
17:16If you have a hydrophilic material,
17:18and you put contaminated water next to it
17:22with junk that you want to get rid of —
17:24So, what happens is, I’ve shown you,
17:26is that this stuff gets excluded from beyond the exclusion zone,
17:32and the remaining EZ doesn’t have any contaminants.
17:35So, you can put bacteria there, and the bacteria would go out.
17:39And because the exclusion zone is big,
17:42it’s easy to extract the water and harvest it.
17:44And we’ve done that.
17:45And we’re working on trying to make it practical.
17:49Well, one of the things we noticed is that it looks as though salt
17:53is also excluded.
17:54So, we’re now thinking about extending this,
18:00putting in ocean water.
18:01And you put the ocean water in, and if the salt is excluded,
18:05then you simply take the EZ water which should be free of salt,
18:09and you can get drinking water then out of this.
18:15So, getting biological energy.
18:19The cells are full of macromolecules, proteins, nucleic acids,
18:23and each one these is a nucleating site to build EZ waters.
18:26So, around each one of these is EZ water.
18:29Now, the EZ water is negatively charged, the region beyond is positively charged,
18:34so you have charge separation.
18:36And these separated charges are free, available,
18:39to drive reactions inside your cells.
18:42So, what it means really is, it’s a kind of photosynthesis
18:46that your cells are doing.
18:48The light is being absorbed,
18:50converted into charge separation,
18:52just the same that happens in photosynthesis,
18:55and these charges are used by you.
18:58One example of this, obtaining energy on a larger scale,
19:03I mean the energy is coming in all the time from all over
19:07and it’s absorbed by you, actually quite deeply:
19:10If you take a flashlight and you shine it through the palm,
19:12you can actually see it through here, so it penetrates quite deeply,
19:16and you have many blood vessels all around you,
19:20especially capillaries near the periphery,
19:22and it’s possible that some of this energy that’s coming in
19:26is used to help drive the blood flow.
19:30Let me explain that in a moment.
19:32What you see here is the microcirculation, it’s a piece of muscle,
19:37and you can see a few capillaries winding their way through.
19:40And then these capillaries are the red blood cells that you can see.
19:44A typical red blood cell looks like on the upper right.
19:47It’s big, but when they actually flow, they bend.
19:51The reason they bend is that the vessel is too small.
19:54So, the vessel is sometimes even half the size of the red blood cells.
19:58They’re going to squinch and go through.
20:00Now it requires quite a bit of energy to do that,
20:02and the question is: Does your heart really supply all the energy
20:06that’s necessary for driving this event?
20:09And what we found is a surprise.
20:11We found that if we take a hollow tube made of hydrophilic material,
20:16just like a straw, and we put the straw in the water,
20:21we found constant unending flow that goes through.
20:26So, here’s the experiment, here’s the tube,
20:28and you can see that the tube is put in the water.
20:32We fill out the inside just to make sure it’s completely filled inside,
20:35put into the water and the water contains some spheres, some particles,
20:39so we can detect any movements that occurred.
20:42And you look in the microscope and what you find looks like this:
20:45unending flow through the tube.
20:47It can go on for a full day as long as we’ve looked at it.
20:51So, it’s free; light is driving this flow,
20:54in a tube, no extra sources of energy other than light.
20:59So, if you think about the human,
21:01and think about the energy that’s being absorbed in your water, and in your cells,
21:07it’s possible that we may use some of this energy
21:09to drive biological processes in a way that you had not envisioned before.
21:14So, what I presented to you has many implications
21:18for science and technology that we’ve just begun thinking about.
21:22And the most important is that the radiant energy
21:26is absorbed by the water, and giving energy to the water
21:29in terms of chemical potential.
21:31And this may be used in biological contexts,
21:33for example, as in blood flow,
21:37but in many other contexts as well.
21:40And when you think of chemical reactions that involve water,
21:43you just think of a molecule sitting in the water.
21:47But what I’ve shown you is not just that,
21:49you have the particle, EZ, positive charge, the effect of light,
21:54all of those need to be taken into account.
21:57So, it may be necessary to reconsider many of the kinds of reactions,
22:02for understanding these reactions
22:04that we’ve learned about in our chemistry class.
22:06Weather. So, I’ve shown you about clouds.
22:09The critical factor is charge.
22:12If you take a course in weather and such,
22:17you hear that the most critical factors are temperature and pressure.
22:21Charge is almost not mentioned,
22:23despite the fact that you can see lightning and thunder all the time.
22:27But charges may be much more important than pressure and temperature
22:32in giving us the kind of weather that we see.
22:35Health. When you’re sick the doctor says drink water.
22:39There may be more to that than meets the eye.
22:44And in food, food is mostly water,
22:47we don’t think of food as being water, but it’s mostly water.
22:49If we want to understand how to freeze it, how to preserve it,
22:53how to avoid dehydration,
22:55we must know something about the nature of water,
22:58and we’re beginning to understand about that.
23:01In terms of practical uses, there’s desalination a possibility,
23:06and by the way, the desalination,
23:08where you need it most is where the sun shines the most,
23:11in dry areas.
23:13So, the energy for doing all this is available, freely available, to do it.
23:18And for standard filtration as well,
23:20a very simple way of removing bacteria and such from drinking water —
23:26it could be actually quite cheap for third world countries.
23:29And finally, getting electricity out of water
23:33through the sun’s energy that comes in, another possibility.
23:37So, I’ve tried to explain to you water’s fourth phase,
23:43really understanding that water has not three phases, but four phases.
23:47And understanding the fourth phase, I think is the key
23:50to unlock the door to the understanding of many, many phenomena.
23:55And mostly, what we actually like most,
23:59is understanding the gentle beauty of nature.
24:03Thank you very much.