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posted by martyb on Tuesday April 26 2016, @03:12PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the neither-solid,-liquid,-nor-gas dept.

Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe a new tunneling state of water molecules confined in hexagonal ultra-small channels - 5 angstrom across - of the mineral beryl.

"At low temperatures, this tunneling water exhibits quantum motion through the separating potential walls, which is forbidden in the classical world," said lead author Alexander Kolesnikov of ORNL's Chemical and Engineering Materials Division. "This means that the oxygen and hydrogen atoms of the water molecule are 'delocalized' and therefore simultaneously present in all six symmetrically equivalent positions in the channel at the same time. It's one of those phenomena that only occur in quantum mechanics and has no parallel in our everyday experience."


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by CHK6 on Tuesday April 26 2016, @03:51PM

    by CHK6 (5974) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @03:51PM (#337536)

    I get the feeling, and I admit it's just a "feeling", that physics can make up anything they want and justify it by sprinkling in some "quantum mechanics" justification on whatever their math formulas spit out. Maybe I'm overly simplifying the intense and immense work of those dedicating their lives to such work, but when I hear that the idea cannot exist in the universe, but it exists only in quantum mechanics land. It really smells of fantasy through math.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by hendrikboom on Tuesday April 26 2016, @03:54PM

      by hendrikboom (1125) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 26 2016, @03:54PM (#337537) Homepage Journal

      We live in quantum-mechanics land. It's just that being as big as we are, we only see the large-scale quantum phenomena, which we call ordinary reality.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday April 26 2016, @03:57PM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Tuesday April 26 2016, @03:57PM (#337538) Journal

      A narrow (atoms-wide) channel filled with water molecules is exactly the kind of place you'd expect to find quantum phenomena.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 3, Funny) by Anne Nonymous on Tuesday April 26 2016, @06:47PM

        by Anne Nonymous (712) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @06:47PM (#337582)

        That and the lingerie department at Macy's.

    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by opinionated_science on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:12PM

      by opinionated_science (4031) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:12PM (#337542)

      There is only quantum mechanics - classical theory is the approximation.

      Did you read the work? Do you have the necessary tools to understand the implications?

      At the size scale being discussed here, this is not unexpected, and underpins the triumph of human research that atomic physics represents. What this experiment shows, however, is the direct observation of a phenomena that had been hypothesized, and has direct consequences for pharmaceutical design.

      To reiterate the "it only exists in quantum", is perhaps imprecise language. There is *only* quantum mechanics (and gravity), the classical description is the approximation. There are many cases the classical model is provably false!!! This is subject matter worth studying the mathematics for....it is intrinsically beautiful.

      • (Score: 0, Disagree) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:28PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:28PM (#337549)

        There is *only* quantum mechanics (and gravity)

        I see no reason that gravity need exist. Electromagnetism is a good enough explanation. As for "black holes" and the "Big Bang", well, the established astronomers censors contrary evidence in opposition to these theories. [youtube.com]

        "Gravitational Lensing"? Does not light obey standard optics in space as it does on Earth? Consider that refraction due to light crossing the boundary between mostly empty space and a hydrogen cloud can bend light... If you think it's strange that astronomers looking through giant telescope optics completely ignore such light bending feats of normal matter in space, and instead insist examples of such are evidence instead of weird theories about warped space time. Well, then you'll be one step closer to realizing the truth.

        • (Score: 2) by Alfred on Tuesday April 26 2016, @06:58PM

          by Alfred (4006) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @06:58PM (#337587) Journal
          For my education: If gravity need not exist then what should replace it in my mental model of the universe? And how does it work? Yes you said electromagnetism but can you go into how that fits and works?
        • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Wednesday April 27 2016, @09:01AM

          by maxwell demon (1608) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @09:01AM (#337847) Journal

          I see no reason that gravity need exist.

          The force that keeps us here on earth is, by definition, gravity. And that's independent on how you explain it. If you don't think gravity exist, jump from a building. You'll quickly learn that it does.

          Electromagnetism is a good enough explanation.

          No, it isn't.

          As for "black holes" and the "Big Bang", well, the established astronomers censors contrary evidence in opposition to these theories.

          Oh, a conspiracy theory. And it's on YouTube! Then it must be true! </sarcasm>

          --
          The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Zinho on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:25PM

      by Zinho (759) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:25PM (#337545)

      ... when I hear that the idea cannot exist in the universe, but it exists only in quantum mechanics land. It really smells of fantasy through math.

      That's fair, since people saying that an idea can't exist in the universe are oversimplifying. Reality is strange, and the models we use to describe classical mechanics are only first-approximations of reality.

      Magnetism is a good example; classical mechanics gives a very simple model for force between two magnets, F=mu*q1*q2/4*pi*r^2
      Unfortunately, that makes a lot of assumptions that aren't true, the big one being modeling a magnet as a pair of matched monopoles. Once you start digging into the details, the grade-school explanation of "opposite ends of magnets attract each other" stops being useful, because reality is much weirder. [kjmagnetics.com]

      Technically, everything in the world is really doing lots of quantum mechanical stuff all the time, and what we see as classical mechanics is the sum of all those quantum effects together in large number. It's when you really start looking at it that the edges start getting fuzzy. [wikipedia.org]

      --
      "Space Exploration is not endless circles in low earth orbit." -Buzz Aldrin
      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by TheLink on Tuesday April 26 2016, @06:43PM

        by TheLink (332) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @06:43PM (#337580) Journal

        Technically, everything in the world is really doing lots of quantum mechanical stuff all the time, and what we see as classical mechanics is the sum of all those quantum effects together in large number.

        But is it really the sum? The popular "collapse" theory seems to make the assumption that we are not in a superposition ourselves, but wouldn't it be possible that everything including us are all in superpositions and it's more of what sort of interference we're experiencing with the supposed observed quantum stuff?

        • (Score: 2) by hendrikboom on Monday May 02 2016, @11:56PM

          by hendrikboom (1125) Subscriber Badge on Monday May 02 2016, @11:56PM (#340513) Homepage Journal

          Of Course we're all in superpositions. And when we observe something we become correlated with the thing we're observing. So our superpositions end up merging. That's the many-worlds theory in a nutshell. The only so-called interpretation of quantum mechanics that makes any sense to me. It doesn't have to postulate anything more than what the math already expresses. No voodoo special role for consciousness, no mysterious state collapse. Just conceptual elegance.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by ledow on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:26PM

      by ledow (5567) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:26PM (#337546) Homepage

      I'd agree with you.

      But take this into account.

      Some nutter came up with some maths. It's barmy but it was the only solution to an otherwise quite simple problem. In many cases the maths was dismissed out of hand because it didn't make sense in the physical interpretations.

      Roll on 100 years (yes, quantum theory is really that old). In that time, all the crazy, insane, non-obvious, unintuitive answers gotten from those same formulae have predicted effects which are just as barmy, but quite clearly defined. "Yes, it's mad," we said "but if it's right, THIS should happen".

      In 100 years, nobody has found one that DOESN'T work. We've got lots that are hard to find, because of their very nature, and we have many that were so barmy we dismissed them until - completely out of the blue - real-life physics found the same answer out there in the universe (and I don't mean "in estimates from distant galaxies" but "in our own satellites", "in microscopic experiments", and in almost everything we do).

      Now, they could all be complete coincidence. The mad numbers (including everything from imaginary numbers to things that can't be in a fixed state until they are observed) that came out of the mess of maths that generated all this could COMPLETELY COINCIDENTALLY coincide with reality. But every time they check out, it's another coincidence in the book. At some point, you begin to realise, this isn't just coincidence and madness. It's the maths that underlies the physics. The knock-on effects are weird, unintuitive (and actually make more sense if particles can time-travel, or if there are particle-making fields throughout the entirety of the vacuum of space, etc.) but they correspond to the predictions made on nothing more than solving an equation on paper.

      That kind of thing doesn't just happen. You can't make up nonsense and then go into the universe and find your nonsense unicorn sprouting rainbows by chance. It means we almost certainly did the maths right and the universe is much more complex than our earth-bound existence has honed our survival-based minds for.

      I'm a mathematician. A poor one. I went to university but I probably couldn't do it again. But the equations are pretty impeccable, if horribly, horribly complex. They make sense, in a world of pure physical numbers. But they only make sense if you consider multiple dimensions, relativity, quantum mechanics, "weird" particle-wave behaviours and matter-creating fields permeating nothing. And, shockingly, every time we dig into how that could be, we find more things that work that way.

      P.S. Your computer processor? The design almost certainly has to take account of quantum effects or it wouldn't work properly. You can ignore them if you like, but then your processor would be stuck at a certain size / speed and wouldn't work past that for weird reasons. Take into account quantum effects and design counter-measures to them and you can go smaller and faster. The same way that satellites, if you don't account for relativity, would be off-course, out-of-sync and not as accurate. Take account of the weird bits of the maths, though, and you can accurately predict and compensate for it.

      So either the entire universe is wrong and deliberately plotting against you, or your maths is too simplified to describe things past a certain level. And when you go to town on the maths, the logical consequences are things like relativity, quantum mechanics, gravity waves and basically everything that we've been able to confirm in the last 100 years in space, at the LHC, or anywhere in between.

      Literally, quantum mechanics is the same physics you're used to (also based on maths, and also not believed for a long period of history, e.g. orbits of planets), taken to their logical conclusion. And it matches reality, so far. In itself it still may only be part of the story, in the same way that Newtonian physics cannot explain relativity on its own. But so far we know it's substantially correct. And we're still digging into the exact implications of those numbers popping out of those equations and what that means for a 4-dimensional being looking outside to see what all this stuff actually is.

      • (Score: 2) by opinionated_science on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:17PM

        by opinionated_science (4031) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:17PM (#337561)

        Some nutter came up with some maths. It's barmy but it was the only solution to an otherwise quite simple problem. In many cases the maths was dismissed out of hand because it didn't make sense in the physical interpretations.

        That is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE.

        The reason that mathematics is the bedrock of scientific progress, is that once you have a hypothesis presented in this manner, you can then do experiments to VALIDATE the hypothesis.\

        One of the most amazing things about the age we live in, is that you can INDEPENDENTLY verify the mathematics with your own quantum phenomena device (google laser-pointer physics - it was in scientific american ,I think...).

        The biggest discrepancy between quantum mechanics and the "classical approximation", is that there are no particles but wavefunctions that give probabilities where particles can be found. The classical thinking is that planets can be predicted at T0+dt if you know where and how fast they're moving at T. Of course that fails for the planet mercury (and quite amusingly for the atom mercury as well!! I only expect the chemists to get that joke ;-)

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26 2016, @07:34PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26 2016, @07:34PM (#337597)

          Try reading the post again, this time from the perspective that gp is trying to lead CHK6 to an understanding of what's going on.

        • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Wednesday April 27 2016, @09:10AM

          by maxwell demon (1608) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @09:10AM (#337850) Journal

          Err … I'm not a chemist, so I guess I'm wrong on assuming that you refer to the fact that mercury is liquid because of relativistic effects.

          --
          The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 2) by legont on Tuesday April 26 2016, @09:06PM

        by legont (4179) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @09:06PM (#337629)

        I use this formula for myself: "anything that can be imagined exits" meaning that if a mathematical theory is proven and complex enough, the abstracts is describes are objective reality somewhere.
        My first personal example was an introduction to the totally useless theory of knots in high school. A university student who gave a talk could not list any use at all. A few years pass and it is used in theories of DNA, mixing liquids, Sun's corona structure and so on.
        Any mathematical instrument magically turns out to be useful. There got to be a deep reason for it.

        --
        "Wealth is the relentless enemy of understanding" - John Kenneth Galbraith.
        • (Score: 2) by bitstream on Tuesday April 26 2016, @10:06PM

          by bitstream (6144) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @10:06PM (#337646) Journal

          Which year did you hear about the theory of knots?

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by fritsd on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:14PM

      by fritsd (4586) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:14PM (#337558) Journal

      It's the other way around, there are things that have been measured macroscopically, where the simplest explanation is with quantum mechanics.

      An example is the inversion of the NH3 molecule (ammonia gas): this page shows it nicely: http://www.quirkyscience.com/ammonia-flip-quantum-tunneling-quantum-oscillations/ [quirkyscience.com]

      Imagine an impenetrable little ball called N with three sticks with three balls called H attached to the N. NH3. They don't lie in a plane; the N is raised, so to speak.

      Now above the N on the other side of the Hs there are two spare electrons. They're also little hard balls, right?

      Now what this ammonia molecule does really easily, is flip like an umbrella, where the three H's are now a bit higher and the N is now below the three H's. Happens to umbrellas in a strong wind all the time. Not a very high energy barrier. Both conformations are equally stable "inside-out" or "normal"

      So what happens to the two electrons that were above the N? They're now below the N. Boring.
      How did they get there? They *went through the N atom* !!! Just like that.

      Now this is a lot easier to explain with the maths of quantum tunnelling [wikipedia.org] than with any other explanation!
      Hey presto, 1973 Nobel prize in physics [wikipedia.org].

      • (Score: 2) by tangomargarine on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:38PM

        by tangomargarine (667) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:38PM (#337570)

        Sounds like it would be a lot easier to explain by just rotating the thing 180 degrees on the right axis...

        --
        "Is that really true?" "I just spent the last hour telling you to think for yourself! Didn't you hear anything I said?"
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26 2016, @06:41PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26 2016, @06:41PM (#337579)

        or you could just mention the evolution of various material properties of metals around room-temperature, since those can only bee predicted by using quantum physics.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by captain normal on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:16PM

      by captain normal (2205) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:16PM (#337559)

      I imagine that there were people 100 years ago that were saying the same things about the theories of Albert Einstein and Max Planck . Those theories describing the underlying energies of the physical world have led to many developments that would seem like magic to people from only that 100 years ago. Just because it doesn't seem to exist in Newtonian physics doesn't mean it it is not the real "universe".

      • (Score: 2) by CHK6 on Wednesday April 27 2016, @12:02PM

        by CHK6 (5974) on Wednesday April 27 2016, @12:02PM (#337882)

        No doubt that I acknowledge my own ignorance on the matter and do not want to cheapen the hard work of those individuals that pursue unraveling hard science. But with that said, let us not forget that is was "science" that not too long ago that thought one could merely turn lead into gold. Sure science tries really hard to debunk mystic ideals out of what is, but the craft of science is now using "math" as some means of proof for something unobservable skates the lines of could be true or complete fantasy.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:14PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:14PM (#337544)

    I know, it's not really that, but was curious if other readers would get the reference (without cheating/Googling it.)

    • (Score: 2) by Zinho on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:27PM

      by Zinho (759) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:27PM (#337547)

      You're not the only Vonnegut fan in the audience here ;)

      Adding extra text, because of lameness filter, I guess; it's not really saying.

      --
      "Space Exploration is not endless circles in low earth orbit." -Buzz Aldrin
    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:30PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 26 2016, @04:30PM (#337550)

      I'll see your fictional Ice9 and raise the stakes with "polywater". That was a huge fad around the time I was born, like when I was a kid learning about chemistry for the first time people were still making fun of them/it. Kids these days make fun of cold fusion now. Same cultural problem, different players.

      A good analogy for the polywater fad would be if your dishwasher very approximately speaking cleans things using water, that does not imply the discharge from a dishwasher is either clean, or that its pure water, but WILL provide infinite entertainment and employment for teams of analytic research chemists. Hippie era chemists were not fastidious glassware cleaners, probably too busy doing naughty synthesis with 3-neck flasks and refining oily vegetative material with the lab rotovaps and making bongs out of vacuum distillation flasks. God only knows what went on in labs back in the good old days. Oh wait we have Max Gergel's memoirs, and they are in fact some crazy stuff.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by hendrikboom on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:02PM

        by hendrikboom (1125) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday April 26 2016, @05:02PM (#337555) Homepage Journal

        For those not in the know, polywater was water prepared in a particular way that turned out to have weird properties. Originally though to be a new state of pure water, it was later discovered that the weird properties were due to an extremely low level of particular impurities, apparently introduced because the instruments used hadn't been cleaned to a level of cleanliness no one at the time thought relevant.

        • (Score: 2) by butthurt on Tuesday April 26 2016, @09:46PM

          by butthurt (6141) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @09:46PM (#337640) Journal

          An explanation I heard is that the polywater was silicone grease, which is generally used when assembling glassware.

  • (Score: 2) by bitstream on Tuesday April 26 2016, @10:30PM

    by bitstream (6144) on Tuesday April 26 2016, @10:30PM (#337652) Journal

    If the channel is 5 angstrom across and the atoms ~1 angstrom. Then it should be easy to pass? what's missing?

    1 angstrom = 10^-10
    1 picometer = 10^-12

    The distance between the two hydrogen atoms in H2O should be 151.5 * 10^-12 meters. So then even 1 angstrom seems like a gigantic hole. Why would a single water molecule have any problem with this?