Students learn that water has three phases: solid, liquid and vapor. But there is something more: a fourth phase, recently discovered in our University of Washington laboratory. This phase builds when water meets any of various hydrophilic (water-loving) surfaces. It is more than a mere laboratory curiosity. Fourth phase water is surprisingly extensive, projecting out from those surfaces by up to millions of molecular layers. It exists throughout nature, including throughout your body.
This phase of water is described in a now-popular book: The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor. The book documents the basic experimental findings, and goes on to present many applications, both scientific and technological. And, it deals with the many implications of fourth-phase water for health.
“The existence of a fourth phase of water may seem unexpected. However, it is not so radical an idea: more than a century ago the distinguished physical chemist Sir William Hardy argued for the necessity of a fourth phase; and many authors over the years have found evidence for some kind of “ordered” or “structured” phase of water.”
Fresh experimental evidence not only confirms the existence of such an ordered, liquid-crystalline phase, but also details its properties. Those properties explain many everyday observations, and go on to answer questions ranging from why gelatin desserts hold their water to why teapots whistle.
The buildup of any such ordered phase requires energy, and here the energy comes from the sun. Radiant energy converts ordinary (bulk) water into ordered water, building the ordered zone. We found that all wavelengths of light ranging from UV, through visible, to infrared can build this ordered water, the most capable being infrared energy. Water absorbs infrared energy freely from the environment; it uses that energy to convert bulk water into liquid crystalline (fourth-phase) water — which we also call “exclusion zone” or “EZ” water because it profoundly excludes solutes.
Hence, buildup of EZ water occurs naturally and spontaneously from environmental energy. Additional input energy creates further EZ buildup. Since infrared energy is abundant in the environment, fourth-phase water is likewise abundant.
Of particular significance is the fourth phase’s charge: commonly negative (Figure 1). Absorbed radiant energy splits water molecules; the negative component constitutes the building block of the EZ, while the positive component binds with water molecules to form free hydronium ions, which diffuse throughout the ordinary liquid water. Adding additional light stimulates more charge separation.
“Life is water dancing to the tune of solids. Without that dance, there could be no life.”
This light-driven process resembles the first step of photosynthesis. In that first step, energy from the sun splits water molecules. Hydrophilic chromophores catalyze the splitting. The process considered here is similar but more generic: many hydrophilic surfaces can catalyze the splitting.
Some surfaces work more effectively than others. The resemblance to the initial step of photosynthesis implies that the current finding should not be considered “exotic.” Rather, it would appear to be a member of a set of related phenomena, of which this is merely the latest to be discovered.
We found that immersing tubes made of hydrophilic materials into water produces flow through those tubes (Figure 2). The driving energy comes from the radiant energy absorbed and stored in the water. That energy builds an annular EZ within the tube. As that EZ builds, it releases protons into the tubular core. The protons repel one another, creating pressure. The pressure gives way at one end or the other, pushing water out, and thereby drawing more water in from the opposite end of the tube to replace what has been lost. That keeps the process going. Flow may persist undiminished for many hours, even days. Additional incident energy brings faster flow. This is not a “perpetual motion” machine: incident radiant energy drives the flow — in much the same way that it drives vascular flow in plants.
That water-based energy-conversion framework is rich with implication for many systems involving water. These systems range from biology and chemistry all the way to atmospheric science and engineering. The fourth phase appears nearly everywhere: all that’s needed for its presence is water, radiant energy, and a hydrophilic surface. The latter can be as large as a slab of polymer or as small as a dissolved molecule. The liquid crystalline, EZ phase inevitably builds — and its presence plays some integral role in the system’s dynamics.
Biological Function & Health
One example of such a system is…you. By volume, two thirds of your cells consist of water. In terms of the molecular fraction, that translates to more than 99% because so many of those diminutive molecules are required to build that two-thirds volume fraction. Modern cell biology considers that 99% of your molecules are mere background carriers of the “important” molecules of life such as proteins and nucleic acids. Or, put another way, conventional wisdom asserts that 99% of your molecules don’t do very much.
However, EZ water envelops every macromolecule in the cell. Those macromolecules are so tightly packed that the enveloping liquid-crystalline water largely fills your cells. In other words, most of your cell water is EZ water. This water plays a central role in everything the cell does, as elaborated in my earlier book, Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life www.ebnerandsons.com.
What’s new is the role of radiant energy: incident radiant energy powers many of those cellular functions. An example is the blood flowing through your capillaries. That blood eventually encounters high resistance: capillaries are often narrower than the red blood cells that must pass through them. To make their way through, those red cells need to bend and contort. You’d anticipate the need for lots of driving pressure to succeed in driving those cells through the capillaries; yet, the pressure gradient across the capillary bed is negligibly small.
The paradox resolves if radiant energy helps propel flow through capillaries in the same way that it propels flow through hydrophilic tubes (Fig. 2). We recently confirmed the validity of that mechanism in an in vivo circulatory system. We found first that after the heartbeat had been terminated, flow continued (albeit at lower rate). Something beyond the heart can apparently drive the blood. We then tested the signature feature of the flow phenomenon (Fig. 2): propulsion by radiant infrared energy. We added infrared energy and found a reversible blood-flow increase of about 300%. Thus, radiant energy may constitute an unsuspected source of vascular drive, supplementing the heart. And, this propulsion mechanism appears to work through the medium of water.
Why you feel good after a sauna now seems more understandable as well. If radiant energy drives capillary flow, and ample capillary flow is important for optimal functioning, then sitting in the sauna should inevitably be a feel-good experience. The infrared energy associated with heat should help drive that flow. The same if you walk out into sunlight: we presume that the feel-good experience derives purely from the psychological realm; but the evidence above implies that sunlight may build your body’s EZs. Fully built EZs around each protein seem necessary for optimal cellular functioning. If you haven’t enough EZ water, then exposure to infrared radiant energy could build EZ and solve your problem.
Beyond applications for natural science and health, the discovery of the fourth phase has practical applications. They include flow production (already mentioned), electrical energy harvesting, and even filtration. I will briefly mention the latter two applications.
Filtration occurs naturally because the liquid-crystalline EZ phase massively excludes particles and solutes in much the same way as ice. Accordingly, fourth phase water is essentially solute free. Collecting it provides largely solute-free, virus-free, and bacteria-free water. A working prototype has confirmed this expectation. Purification by this method requires no physical filter: the fourth phase itself accounts for the separation, and the energy for achieving this comes from the sun.
Energy harvesting, a second application, seems straightforward: light drives the separation of water-molecule charge, and those separated charges constitute a battery. Harvesting electrical energy should be realizable with proper electrodes. This technology development is underway, and has the potential to replace standard photovoltaic systems with simpler ones based on water. More detail on these practical applications can be found in the Pollack laboratory homepage: <http://faculty.washington.edu/ghp/>.
Water & Healing
“Drink more water” is a common grandmotherly command during childhood illness — but there’s more. In his now-classical book, sub-titled Your Body’s Many Cries for Water: You Are Not Sick, You Are Thirsty, the Iranian physician Fereydoon Batmanghelidj confirms the wisdom of that quaint advice. The author documents years of clinical practice showing reversal of diverse pathologies simply by drinking abundant water. Hydration is critical.
Batmanghelidj’s experience meshes with evidence of healing from special waters such as those from the Ganges and Lourdes. Those waters most often come from deep underground springs or from glacial melt. Spring waters experience pressure from above; pressure converts liquid water into EZ water because of EZ water’s higher density. So, spring water’s healing quality may arise not only from its mineral content, but also from its relatively high EZ content. Certain spring water have been used by natives of many countries for promoting health.
Water’s centrality for health is nothing new, but it has been progressively forgotten. With the various sciences laying emphasis molecular, atomic, and even sub-atomic approaches, we have begun losing sight of what happens when the pieces come together to form the larger entity. The whole may indeed exceed the sum of its parts. 99% of those parts are water molecules. To think that 99% of our molecules merely bathe the “important” molecules of life ignores centuries of evidence to the contrary. Water plays a central role in all features of life.
Until recently, the understanding of water’s properties has been constrained by the common misconception that water has three phases. We now know that it has four. Taking account of this fourth phase allows many of water’s “anomalies” to vanish: those unexplainable “anomalies” turn into predictable features. Water becomes more understandable, and so do entities made largely of water, such as oceans, clouds, and human beings.
Various talks also describe these fresh understandings. One of them is a University of Washington public-award lecture presented some years back.
As ice retreats, polar bears, or Ursus maritimus, have become synonymous with focusing our collective attention on climate change.
Having only a cotton membrane to separate you from the outside world, you hear and feel the intimate presence of the life around you.
Has there ever been a special place that you’ve visited, held in your heart, and fondly remembered long after you left?