New study visualizes motion of water molecules, promises new wave of electronic devices

December 22, 2017, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
An Oak Ridge National Laboratory-led research team used a sophisticated X-ray scattering technique to visualize and quantify the movement of water molecules in space and time, which provides new insights that may open pathways for liquid-based electronics. Credit: Jason Richards/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, US Dept. of Energy

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 involving a hydrogen atom sandwiched between two oxygen atoms. This hydrogen bond is a quantum-mechanical phenomenon responsible for various properties of , including , 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 move.

"The hydrogen bond has a strong effect on the dynamic correlation between molecules as they move through space and time, but so far the data, mostly by optical laser spectroscopy, yielded broad or 'hazy' results with unclear specificity," Egami said.

For a clearer picture, the joint ORNL-UT team used an advanced X-ray technique known as inelastic X-ray scattering to determine molecular movement. They found that the dynamics of oxygen-to-oxygen bonding between water molecules is, surprisingly, not random but highly coordinated. When the bond between is disrupted, the strong hydrogen bonds work to maintain a stable environment over a specific period of time.

"We found that the amount of time it takes for a molecule to change its 'neighbor' molecule determines the water's viscosity," Egami said. This new discovery would stimulate further studies on exerting control over the viscosity of other liquids.

Egami views the current work as a springboard to more advanced research that will leverage neutron scattering techniques at the Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, to further determine the origin of viscosity and other dynamic properties of liquids.

The researchers' approach could also be used to characterize the molecular behavior and viscosity of ionic, or salty, liquids and other liquid substances, which would aid in the development of new types of semiconductor devices with liquid electrolyte insulating layers, better batteries and improved lubricants.

Explore further: Researchers explore implications of excess hydrogen bonding at the ice-vapor interface

More information: "Seeing real-space dynamics of liquid water through inelastic x-ray scattering" Science Advances (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1603079 ,

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1 / 5 (1) Dec 22, 2017
Structure provides function....not energy. Denying atomic/particle structure will keep modern science ignorant.

not rated yet Dec 22, 2017
It is probably a good idea to just describe your basic science research as basic science and not try so hard to stretch it all the way to the latest popular science applications. It wastes space and devalues the contribution that basic research gives. Understanding the molecular origin of viscosity is interesting and we can all use our imaginations to speculate on applications if that's what we need. You can put the applications and stakeholders in your DOE (or LDRD) grant application.
Dec 22, 2017
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Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Dec 22, 2017
"... the strong bond involving a hydrogen atom sandwiched between two oxygen atoms."
That's not water.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Dec 22, 2017
Water is mixture of oxygen rich (gel) and oxygen poor (liquid) phase.

HO2 is hydroperoxyl. Reactive.
Which makes me wonder - how would it work as an atmospheric CO2 scrubber....
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Dec 22, 2017
Water is mixture of oxygen rich (gel) and oxygen poor (liquid) phase.

HO2 is hydroperoxyl. Reactive.
Which makes me wonder - how would it work as an atmospheric CO2 scrubber....

Never mind. Found lots of references to read thru...
5 / 5 (1) Dec 23, 2017
"... the strong bond involving a hydrogen atom sandwiched between two oxygen atoms."
That's not water.

@WG - they are referring to the 'hydrogen bond' between one of the hydrogens of one water molecule and the oxygen of ANOTHER water molecule.

Although not as strong as a normal shared-pair-of-electrons covalent bond, it is not inconsequential (roughly 5% of the strength of the O-H bonds in water). See
Da Schneib
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 24, 2017
@Whyde, look up "bonding angle of h2o" for some details. This will show you that the oxygen atom in a water molecule sticks out at an angle from the hydrogen atoms; thus, the oxygen atom in one molecule is likely to be next to the hydrogen atom in another, with another oxygen atom on the other side, and the hydrogen atom is therefore likely to interact with both. What this article is saying is that these interactions determine the viscosity.

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