Friday, February 11, 2011

The Water of Life's Quantum Secret

One of the most interesting, and perplexing, things I learned in grade school science class, was the unique properties of water.  Not only did we learn that our bodies are made up of mostly water, but that it does strange things when changing states.  Like expanding and becoming less dense when freezing when everything else shrinks and becomes more dense when going from a liquid to a solid.  Also, when it freezes, it does so from the top down instead of bottom up.  It turns out this is very important for life to live and evolve in bodies of water, where we all started out.  Oh, and one more thing... when water passes through the tiny channels in cell membranes, it does so much faster than fluid dynamics predicts. 

None of these things were explained in science class.  It was like, "here are the rules of physics, but water behaves differently, and don't forget to hydrate before gym class".  

Today George Reiter at the University of Houston may have answered some these questions related to water and life.  They took tiny amounts of water and confined them to very small spaces in carbon nano-tubes that approximate the confines in cellular membranes.   When they performed measurements, they found the confined water to have gone into a different quantum state, with more kinetic energy than expected, thus providing an energy boost to the engine of life. 

There is even something in this for the religious, as water plays an important role in the first acts of Genesis.  "Darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters...And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters." 


Roger Paul said...

I really enjoyed this post.

Christopher Boondoc said...

Apparently life on Earth would not be possible as we know it if not for the lower density of ice, which floats to the surface to be melted. Otherwise, sea ice would sink until the oceans were frozen except for a thin melted layer on the surface.