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28 February 2024

International leader in water research helps unravel its mysteries


here's a tendency to assume that ''everything is known and understood about water considering it is so pervasive and such a simple molecule. Instead, until recently, very little was known about how water molecules line up,'' Dr Gerald Pollack, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington, told a lecture hosted at the Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed.

The lecture, titled The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor, was held at Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen Palace on Wednesday. It was attended by H.H. Lt. General Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, as well as other dignitaries.

Students are taught that water has three phases: solid, liquid and vapor but Dr Pollack, the Founding Editor-in-Chief of the journal, WATER, has uncovered a fourth phase, which is actually H3O2, not H2O, and can be called living water. He has dubbed this EZ ("exclusion zone") water - it is more viscous, dense, and alkaline than regular water; has a negative charge, and can hold energy, much like a battery, and deliver energy too. The key ingredient to create this highly structured water is light, i.e. electro-magnetic energy, whether in the form of visible light, or infrared wavelengths, which we are surrounded by all the time.

As Dr Pollack explains in his ground-breaking 2013 book that bears the same title as Wednesday’s lecture, the fourth phase occurs next to water-loving (hydrophilic) surfaces. EZ water can build on any hydrophilic surface when infrared energy is available. It builds by adding layer upon layer of EZ water, and can build millions of molecular layers; it exists almost everywhere throughout nature, including the human body.

The energy for building water structure comes from the sun. Radiant energy converts ordinary bulk water into ordered water, building this ordered zone. The professor has discovered that all wavelengths can build this ordered water. Water absorbs infrared energy freely from the environment and uses it to convert bulk water into liquid crystalline water (fourth phase water).

Of particular significance is the observation that this fourth phase is charged; and the water just beyond is oppositely charged, creating a battery that can produce electrical current and energy. Since light charges this battery, the water can receive and process electromagnetic (light) energy drawn from the environment in much the same way as plants. Absorbed electro-magnetic energy can then be put to use for electrical and mechanical work.

This energy-conversion framework is rich with implications. Not only does it provide an understanding of how water processes solar and other energies, but it also has implications for understanding natural phenomena such as weather and green energy all the way to technologies such as filtration and desalination. The most important implication is arguably that radiant energy is absorbed by the water, and gives energy to the water in terms of chemical potential. This may be used in biological contexts, such as in blood flow, as well as other contexts.

The exclusion zone (EZ) also has a central role when it comes to weather. It is commonly thought that weather derives from two principal variables: temperature and pressure. However, the atmosphere also contains water; it is full of tiny droplets known as aerosol droplets or aerosol particles which make up atmospheric humidity. The Pollack Lab run by the professor has studied the structure of these droplets and found that EZ water envelops each droplet, while hydronium ions occupy the droplets’ interior. It also discovered that the droplets condense to form clouds because of the unlike charges that lie in between the droplets resulting from the splitting of water molecules. Charge is thus a critical factor when it comes to weather. The fourth phase also helps explain the cloud and why they float.

Dr Pollack says the discovery of the fourth phase has been immensely useful and has practical applications. Among other things it helps us to get energy from water. The energy that we can get from water is literally free energy; we can take it from the environment and harvest it. Getting electricity out of water through the sun’s energy that comes in is another possibility. Harvesting electrical energy can be realised with proper electrodes, Dr Pollack says. The ability to obtain electrical energy from water and sunlight has implications for countries such as the UAE which receive a lot of sunlight.

The Pollack Lab has also been researching getting clear, free, drinking water. If you have a hydrophilic material, and put contaminated water next to it, the contaminated material gets excluded and the remaining EZ water doesn’t have any contaminants. If you put bacteria there, the bacteria would go out too. And because the exclusion zone is big, it is easy to extract the water and harvest it; the lab is working on trying to make it practical. Dr Pollack says it appears as though salt is also excluded and adds that they are considering extending this, putting in ocean water. This should result in drinking water being extracted; what is more, the energy for doing all this is freely available.

The professor, an international leader in water research, believes that understanding the fourth phase of water is the key to unlocking the door to the understanding of many phenomena. Taking the fourth phase into account helps resolve many of water’s "anomalies". As a result water, which plays a central role in all features of life, becomes more understandable, and so do entities made up largely of water, such as oceans, clouds, and human beings.