Researchers solve long-standing quandary about water

Jan. 17, 2001 3:08 p.m.

Water, despite its overwhelming importance to all life, remains deeply mysterious. Unlike other liquids, it expands as it cools, moves more freely as it is squeezed and exhibits a host of other odd behaviors that have eluded quantitative explanation for centuries.

Princeton scientists have now solved the quandary, showing how these anomalies arise from water's propensity for organization and structure.

The research, reported in the Jan. 18 issue of Nature, may yield insights into the way water participates in many biological, chemical and geological processes. Work already is planned, for example, to apply the findings to understanding how water structures itself around different kinds of sugars used for the commercial preservation of proteins and vaccines. The technique also may offer a new approach to studying anomalous properties in other materials, including silicon, which shares some of water's quirks.

"I consider this work a major advance," said H. Eugene Stanley, professor of physics at Boston University and an authority on the anomalous properties of water. "What they did was link ideas that no one had ever dreamed were related."

Click here for full news release.