A new approach to studying water viscosity has shown new insights into the behavior of water molecules, and it could open the way for liquid electronics that can be produced and applied in the future.

A team of researchers led by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the Department of Energy uses a high-resolution X-ray scattering technique to measure the tight bond involving a hydrogen atom sandwiched between two oxygen molecules atoms. This hydrogen bonding is a quantum mechanical phenomenon that is responsible for the various properties of water, including its viscosity, its ability to withstand water resistance, or the ability to change its shape.

While water is the most abundant substance on the earth, its behavior at the molecular level has never been fully understood.

The research by the scientific team published in Science Advances has proven that they can probe the dynamics of water and other liquids in real-time. Previous studies have provided photographs of the atomic structure of water, but few know how water molecules move.

To get a clearer picture, the ORNL-UT team used an advanced X-ray technique called inelastic X-ray scattering to determine molecular motion. They found that the dynamics of oxygen-to-oxygen bonds between water molecules were not completely random, but also highly coordinated. When the link between water molecules is interrupted, strong hydrogen bonds will maintain a stable environment for a certain period.

Egami said : “We found that the amount of time enough for a molecule to change its “neighbor” molecule determines the viscosity of the water”. This discovery will stimulate further research into viscosity control of other liquids.

Egami considers their current work as a springboard for more in-depth research, which will promote neutron scattering techniques to identify further the origin of viscosity and other kinematic properties of liquids.

The researchers’ approaches can also be used to describe the molecular behavior and viscosity of ionic fluids, or saline water, and other liquids, which help develop new semiconductor devices with fluid insulation and better battery.


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