Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Illuminating the no-man's land of waters' surface

27.11.2012
Researcher at EPFL proves that the strong electric charge observed at the interface between oil and water is not due to impurities

Water repelling molecules are said to be hydrophobic. The hydration – or formation of water interfaces around hydrophobic molecules – is important for many biological processes: protein folding, membrane formation, transport of proteins across an interface, the transmission of action potentials across membranes. It is involved as well in the process of creating mayonnaise, or in the fact that you can get rid of fat with soap. Hydrophobic interfaces although long studied, are poorly understood.


Nonlinear optics and light diffusion allow to see the unseeable.

Credit: © 2012 EPFL

Here's an amusing kitchen-table experiment to illustrate waters unusual properties: put a drop of pure insulating oil in a glass of pure, non-conducting water, and create an electric field using two wires hooked up to a battery. You'll see the oil move from the negative to the positive pole of the little circuit you've created. You have created charge in a mixture that was neutral, and a huge amount of it too, judging from the speed at which the droplets move. The same thing happens for gas bubbles in water; the phenomenon of charging applies to all hydrophobic/water interfaces.

- A century of debates -

It's not a new discovery; scientists have observed the phenomenon in the middle of the 19th century. But despite more than a century of research, the reason why such a huge electric charge exists is still the subject of heated debate.

In an article published this week in Angewandte Chemie – a journal of reference in the field – EPFL scientist Sylvie Roke challenges a hypothesis put forward last spring in the same journal. With experimental proof to back her up, the holder of the Julia Jacobi chair in photomedicine makes her case: the phenomenon is not caused by the inevitable "impurities" present in oils, as her colleagues claim, but rather by certain intrinsic properties of the water molecules involved.

- Show the unseeable -
For proof, Roke turns to the technologies in which she is an expert – nonlinear optics and light diffusion. Using carefully filtered lasers channeled through a complex circuit of mirrors and lenses, she "hits" her sample – barely a drop – and measures the wavelength of the light that escapes from it. With this she can detect whether or not there are nanoscopic molecules on the interface between the oil and the water.

The precision of the observations "shows that negative charges exist even in a total absence of surface impurities, and thus the explanation put forward by my colleagues, which was derived from charge measurements and chemical titrations of the bulk liquids, doesn't hold up," says Roke. "We have developed a unique apparatus that can distinctly measure the interfacial structure of a layer on the sub-nanometer length scale that surrounds a droplet of oil in water. Thus, we can 'see' what is on the interface, and do not have to deduce it from comparing bulk properties, which is far less accurate."

Disproving a hypothesis isn't enough to explain a phenomenon, however. Roke is studying a promising avenue, that explores the intrinsic quantum nature of the water molecule itself, which might be responsible for the phenomenon. "The measurements we've made as part of this refutation could be used to try and prove this explanation," she says. "It's fascinating, because quantum effects (the smallest of the smallest) might be responsible for macroscopic charging effects that influence so many properties that relate to the functioning of the human body."

Sylvie Roke | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.epfl.ch

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New NASA study improves search for habitable worlds
20.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods
19.10.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>