At a microscopic level, water molecules behave rather like the needle of a compass. Just as the needle moves when surrounded by a magnetic field (such as that of the Earth), water molecules move slightly in one direction when there is an electric field. Or at least that is what physicists thought till now. Research at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona has shown that, in water trapped in the bubbles of a detergent, it is not quite like that: water molecules have a surprising ability to organize themselves in complex structures, which, when in the presence of the detergent’s electric field (created by the action of certain chemical compounds), organize themselves to cancel this out and even invert it.
Image of computer simulations of water molecules behaviour
Professors Jordi Faraudo of the Department of Physics at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and Fernando Bresme, from London University’s Imperial College, publish this surprising result in Physical Review Letters. Their paper deals with a fascinating discovery on the nature of water that will allow us to better understand complex behaviour such as that of biological membranes.
The research has been carried out by means of simulations, using supercomputers, of the behaviour of water molecules and their interaction with the molecules of a chemical compound frequently used in commercial detergents called SDS. In the simulations, carried out in Europe’s most powerful supercomputer laboratories in Edinburgh, the scientists have observed completely abnormal behaviour.
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