Here is the full transcript of Dr. Gerald Pollack’s TEDx Talk titled ‘The 4th Phase of Water’ at TEDxGuelphU conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The Fourth Phase of Water by Dr. Gerald Pollack at TEDxGuelphU
Dr. Gerald Pollack – Professor of bioengineering at University of Washington
Thank you. Water is quite beautiful to look at, and I guess you probably all know that you’re two-thirds water — you do, don’t you? Right. But you may not know that because the water molecule is so small that two-thirds translates into 99% of your molecules. Think of it, 99% of your molecules are water.
So, your shoes are carrying around a blob of water essentially. Now, the question is, in your cells, do those water molecules actually do something? Are these molecules essentially jobless or do they do something that might be really, really interesting? For that matter, are we even really sure that water is H₂O? We read about that in the textbook, but is it possible that some water is actually not H₂O? So, these are questions whose answers are actually not as simple as you think they might be.
In fact, we’re really in the dark about water, we know so little. And why do we know so little? Well, you probably think that water is so pervasive, and it’s such a simple molecule, that everything ought to be known about water, right? I mean you’d think it’s all there. Well, scientists think the same. Many scientists think, oh, water it’s so simple, that everything must be known. And, in fact, that’s not at all the case.
So, let me show you, to start with, a few examples of things about water that we ought to know, but we really haven’t a clue. Here’s something that you see every day. You see a cloud in the sky and, probably, you haven’t asked the question: How does the water get there? Why, I mean, there’s only one cloud sitting there, and the water is evaporating everywhere, why does it go to this cloud forming what you see there?
So, another question: Could you imagine droplets floating on water? We expect droplets to coalesce instantly with the water. The droplets persist for a long time.
And then here’s another example of walking on water. This is a lizard from Central America. And because it walks on water it’s called the Jesus Christ lizard. At first you’ll say, “Well, I know the answer to this, the surface tension is high on water.” But the common idea of surface tension is that there’s a single molecular layer of water at the top, and this single molecular layer is sufficient to create enough tension to hold whatever you put there. I think this is an example that doesn’t fit that.
And here’s another example. Two beakers of water. You put two electrodes in, and you put high voltage between them and then what happens is a bridge forms, and this bridge is made of water, a bridge of water. And this bridge can be sustained as you move one beaker away from the other beaker, as much as 4 centimeters, sustained essentially indefinitely. How come we don’t understand this?
So, what I mean is that there are lots of things about water that we should understand, but we don’t understand, we really don’t know. So, okay, so what do we know about water? Well, you’ve learned that the water molecule contains an oxygen and two hydrogens. That you learn in the textbooks. We know that.
We also know there are many water molecules, and these water molecules are actually moving around microscopically. So, we know that.
What don’t we know about water? Well, we don’t know anything about the social behavior of water. What do I mean by social? Well, you know, sitting at the bar and chatting with your neighbor. We don’t know how water molecules actually share information or interact, and also we don’t know about the actual movements of water molecules. How water molecules interact with one another, and also how water molecules interact with other molecules like that purple one sitting there. Unknown.
Also the phases of water. Now we’ve all learned that there’s a solid phase, a liquid phase and a vapor phase. However, a hundred years ago, there was some idea that there might be a fourth phase, somewhere in between a solid and a liquid. Sir William Hardy, a famous physical chemist, a hundred years ago exactly, professed that there was actually a fourth phase of water, and this water was kind of more ordered than other kinds of water, and in fact had a gel-like consistency.
So, the question arose to us — you know, all of this was forgotten, because people began, as methods improved, to begin to study molecules instead of ensembles of molecules, and people forgot about the collectivity of water molecules and began looking, the same as in biology, began looking at individual molecules and lost sight of the collection. So, we thought we’re going to look at this because we had some idea that it’s possible that this missing link, this fourth phase, might actually be the missing link so that we can understand the phenomena regarding water that we don’t understand.
So, we started by looking somewhere between a solid and a liquid. And the first experiments that we did get us going. We took a gel, that’s the solid, and we put it next to water. And we added some particles to the water because we had the sense that particles would show us something. And sure enough you can see what happened is that the particles began moving away from the interface between the gel and the water, and they just kept moving and moving and moving. And they wound up stopping at a distance that’s roughly the size of one of your hairs. Now, that may seem small, but by molecular dimensions that’s practically infinite. It’s a huge dimension.
So, we began studying the properties of this zone, and we called it, for obvious reasons, the exclusion zone, because practically everything you put there would get excluded, would get expelled from the zone as it builds up, or instead of exclusion zone, EZ for short. And so we found that the kinds of materials that would create or nucleate this kind of zone, not just gels, but we found that practically every water-loving, or so-called hydrophilic surface could do exactly that, creating the EZ water. And as the EZ water builds, it would expel all the solutes or particles, whatever into the bulk water.
We began learning about properties, and we’ve spent now quite a few years looking at the properties. And it looks something like this: You have a material next to water and these sheets of EZ layers begin to build, and they build and build and they just keep building up one by one. So, if you look at the structure of each one of these planes, you can see that it’s a honeycomb, hexagonal kind of structure, a bit like ice, but not ice.
And, if you look at it carefully, you can see the molecular structures. So, of course, it consists of hydrogen and oxygen, because it’s built from water. But, actually, they’re not water molecules. If you start counting the number of hydrogens and the number of oxygens, it turns out that it’s not H₂O. It’s actually H₃O₂. So, it is possible that there’s water that’s not H₂O, a phase of water.
So, we began looking, of course, more into these extremely interesting properties. And what we found is, if we stuck electrodes into the EZ water, because we thought there might be some electrical potential, it turned out that there’s lots of negative charge in that zone. And we used some dyes to seek positive charge, and we found that in the bulk water zone there was an equal amount of positivity.
So, what’s going on? It looked like is, that next to these interfaces the water molecule was somehow splitting up into a negative part and a positive part. And the negative part sat right next to the water-loving material. And the positive charges went out beyond that. We found it’s the same, you didn’t need a straight interface, you could also have a sphere. So, you put a sphere in the water, and any sphere that’s suspended in the water develops one of these exclusion zones, EZ’s, around it, with the negative charge, beyond that is all the positive charge. Charge separation. It didn’t have to be only a material sphere, in fact, you could put a droplet in there, a water droplet, or, in fact, even a bubble, you’d get the same result. Surrounding each one of these entities is a negative charge and the separated positive charge.
So, here’s a question for you. If you take two of these negatively charged entities, and you drop them in a beaker of water near each other, what happens to the distance between them? I bet that 95% of you would say: Well, that’s easy, I learned in physics, negative and negative repel each other, so, therefore they’re going to go apart from one another, right? That what you’d guess? Well, the actual result if you think about it, is that it’s not only the negative charge but you also have positive charge. And the positive charge is especially concentrated in between those two spheres, because they come from contributions from both of those spheres. So, there are a lot of them there.
When you have positive in between two negatives what happens is that you get an attractive force. And so you expect these two spheres to actually come together despite the fact that they have the same charge, and that’s exactly what happens. It’s been known for many years. They come together, and if you have many of them, instead of just two of them, you’ll get something that looks like this. They’ll come together and this is called a colloid crystal. It’s a stable structure. In fact, the yogurt that you might have had this morning probably consists of what you see right here. So, they come together because of the opposite charge.
The same thing is true if you have droplets. They come together because of the opposing charges. So, when you think of droplets, and aerosol droplets in the air, and think about the cloud, it’s actually the reason that these aerosol droplets come together is because of this opposite charge. So, the droplets from the air, similarly charged, come together coalesce, giving you that cloud in the sky.
So the fourth phase, or EZ phase, actually explains quite a lot. It explains, for example, the cloud. It’s the positive charge that draws these negatively charged EZ shells together to give you a condensed cloud that you see up in the sky. In terms of the water droplets, the reason that these are sustained on the surface for actually sometimes as long as tens of seconds — and you can see it if you’re in a boat and it’s raining, you can sometimes see this on the surface of the lake, these droplets are sustained for some time — and the reason they’re sustained is that each droplet contains this shell, this EZ shell, and the shell has to be breached in order for the water to coalesce with the water beneath.
Now, in terms of the Jesus Christ lizard, the reason the lizard can walk, it’s not because of one single molecular layer, but there are many EZ layers lining the surface, and these are gel-like, they’re stiffer than ordinary surfaces so, therefore, you can float a coin on the surface of the water, you can float a paperclip, although if you put it beneath the surface it sinks right down to the bottom, it’s because of that.
And in terms of the water bridge, if you think of it as plain old, liquid, bulk water — hard to understand. But if you think of it as EZ water and a gel-like character, then you can understand how it could be sustained with almost no droop, a very stiff structure.
Okay, so, all well and good, but why is this useful for us? What can we do with it? Well, we can get energy from water. In fact, the energy that we can get from water is free energy. It’s literally free. We can take it from the environment. Let me explain.
So, you have a situation in the diagram with negative charge and positive charge, and when you have two opposing charges next to each other it’s like a battery. So, really we have essentially a battery made of water. And of course you can extract charge from it, so that is right now.
Batteries run down, like your cell phone needs to be plugged in every day or two, and so the question is: Well, what charges this water battery? It took us a while to figure that out, what recharges the battery. And one day, we’re doing an experiment, and a student in the lab walks by and he has this lamp. And he takes the lamp and he shines it on the specimen, and where the light was shining we found that the exclusion zone grew, grew by leaps and bounds. So, we thought, aha, it looks like light, and we’ve many experiments to show, that the energy for building this comes from light. It comes not only from the direct light, but also indirect light.
What do I mean by indirect light? Well, what I mean is that the indirect light is, for example, infrared light that exists all over this auditorium. If we were to turn out all the lights, including the floodlights, and I pulled out my infrared camera and looked at the audience, you’d see a very clear, bright image. And if I looked at the walls you’d see a very clear image. And the reason for that is that everything is giving off infrared energy. You’re giving off infrared energy. That’s the energy that’s most effective in building this charge separation and this fourth phase.
So, in other words you have the material, you have the EZ water, and you collect energy from outside, and as you collect the energy from outside, the exclusion zone builds. And if you a take away that extra energy, it will go back to its normal size. So, this battery is basically charged by light, by the sun. It’s a gift from the sun.
If you think about it, what’s going on, if you think about the plant that you have sitting in your kitchen, you’re getting light, you know where the energy comes from, the energy comes from the light. It’s the photons that hit the plant, that supply all the energy, right? And the plant converts it to chemical energy, the light energy to chemical energy, and the chemical energy is then used to do growth and metabolism and bending and what-have-you. That we all know, it’s very common.
What I’m suggesting to you from our results is that the same thing happens in water. No surprise, because the plant is mostly water, suggesting to you that energy is coming in from outside, light energy, infrared energy, radiant energy basically, and the water is absorbing the energy and converting that energy into some sort of useful work. And so we come to the equation E = H₂O. A bit different from the equation that you’re familiar with. But I think it really is true that you can’t separate energy from water; water is a repository of energy coming free from the environment.
Now can we harvest some of this energy, or is it just totally useless? Well, we can do that because you have a negative zone and a positive zone. And if you put two electrodes in, you can get energy, right? Just like a battery. And we’ve done that and we were able to, for example, have a every simple optical display. It can be run from the energy that you can get from here. And obviously we need to build it up into something bigger and more major in order to get the energy. This is free energy and it comes from water.
Another opportunity we’ve been developing is getting drinking — clear, free, drinking water. If you have a hydrophilic material, and you put contaminated water next to it with junk that you want to get rid of — so, what happens is, I’ve shown you, is that this stuff gets excluded from beyond the exclusion zone, and the remaining EZ doesn’t have any contaminants. So, you can put bacteria there, and the bacteria would go out. And because the exclusion zone is big, it’s easy to extract the water and harvest it. And we’ve done that. And we’re working on trying to make it practical.
Well, one of the things we noticed is that it looks as though salt is also excluded. So, we’re now thinking about extending this, putting in ocean water. And you put the ocean water in, and if the salt is excluded, then you simply take the EZ water which should be free of salt, and you can get drinking water then out of this.
So, getting biological energy. The cells are full of macromolecules, proteins, nucleic acids, and each one of these is a nucleating site to build EZ waters. So, around each one of these is EZ water. Now, the EZ water is negatively charged, and the region beyond is positively charged, so you have charge separation. And these separated charges are free, available, to drive reactions inside your cells.
So, what it means really is, it’s a kind of photosynthesis that your cells are doing. The light is being absorbed, converted into charge separation, just the same that happens in photosynthesis, and these charges are used by you. One example of this, obtaining energy on a larger scale, I mean the energy is coming in all the time from all over and it’s absorbed by you, actually quite deeply: If you take a flashlight and you shine it through the palm, you can actually see it through here, so it penetrates quite deeply, and you have many blood vessels all around you, especially capillaries near the periphery, and it’s possible that some of this energy that’s coming in is used to help drive the blood flow.
Let me explain that in a moment. What you see here is the microcirculation, it’s a piece of muscle, and you can see a few capillaries winding their way through. And in these capillaries are the red blood cells that you can see. A typical red blood cell looks like on the upper right. It’s big, but when they actually flow, they bend. The reason they bend is that the vessel is too small. So, the vessel is sometimes even half the size of the red blood cells. They’re going to squinch and go through.
Now it requires quite a bit of energy to do that, and the question is: Does your heart really supply all the energy that’s necessary for driving this event? And what we found is a surprise. We found that if we take a hollow tube made of hydrophilic material, just like a straw, and we put the straw in the water, we found constant unending flow that goes through.
So, here’s the experiment, here’s the tube, and you can see that the tube is put in the water. We fill out the inside just to make sure it’s completely filled inside, put it into the water and the water contains some spheres, some particles, so we can detect any movements that occur. And you look in the microscope and what you find looks like this: unending flow through the tube. It can go on for a full day as long as we’ve looked at it. So, it’s free; light is driving this flow, in a tube, no extra sources of energy other than light. So, if you think about the human, and think about the energy that’s being absorbed in your water, and in your cells, it’s possible that we may use some of this energy to drive biological processes in a way that you had not envisioned before.
So, what I presented to you has many implications for science and technology that we’ve just begun thinking about. And the most important is that the radiant energy is absorbed by the water, and giving energy to the water in terms of chemical potential. And this may be used in biological contexts, for example, as in blood flow, but in many other contexts as well. And when you think of chemical reactions that involve water, you just think of a molecule sitting in the water. But what I’ve shown you is not just that, you have the particle, EZ, positive charge, the effect of light, all of those need to be taken into account. So, it may be necessary to reconsider many of the kinds of reactions, for understanding these reactions that we’ve learned about in our chemistry class.
Weather. So, I’ve shown you about clouds. The critical factor is charge. If you take a course in weather and such, you hear that the most critical factors are temperature and pressure. Charge is almost not mentioned, despite the fact that you can see lightning and thunder all the time. But charges may be much more important than pressure and temperature in giving us the kind of weather that we see.
Health. When you’re sick the doctor says drink water. There may be more to that than meets the eye. And in food, food is mostly water, we don’t think of food as being water, but it’s mostly water. If we want to understand how to freeze it, how to preserve it, how to avoid dehydration, we must know something about the nature of water, and we’re beginning to understand about that. In terms of practical uses, there’s desalination a possibility, and by the way, the desalination, where you need it most is where the sun shines the most, in dry areas. So, the energy for doing all this is available, freely available, to do it. And for standard filtration as well, a very simple way of removing bacteria and such from drinking water — it could be actually quite cheap for third world countries. And finally, getting electricity out of water through the sun’s energy that comes in, another possibility.
So, I’ve tried to explain to you water’s fourth phase, really understanding that water has not three phases, but four phases. And understanding the fourth phase, I think, is the key to unlock the door to the understanding of many, many phenomena. And mostly, what we actually like most, is understanding the gentle beauty of nature.
Thank you very much.
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