Jeopardy answer: Death Valley and "ionic liquids." Correct question: Where does a little bit of water make a whole lot of difference?
Molecular "space filling" models demonstrate the difference in size for the positively charged "anion" (top image) and the negatively charged "cation" (bottom left) that combine to form a promising ionic liquid. It is still a mystery how the much smaller water molecule (right) can have such a large effect on the viscosity of such ionic liquids.
Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report* that flow properties for a relatively new class of alternative solvents called ionic liquids are extremely sensitive to tiny amounts of water. For example, for one of these solvents, just a 0.01 percent increase in water dissolved into a sample, caused a 1 percent decrease in flow resistance--a 100-fold effect. The finding should be helpful in the design of new industrial processes such as chemical separations that are both more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
Ionic liquids are salts. Just like table salt, ionic liquids consist of two components, one positively and one negatively charged. Unlike most simple salts, however, most of these new solvents are liquid at room temperature.
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