Using large light source equipment, Chinese researchers have discovered the existence of a three-dimensional (3D) structure in a water droplet composed of just five molecules, representing a major step in solving a century-old scientific challenge.
Water is the most plentiful liquid on Earth. However, its molecular structure and interactions with other materials are not well understood. The journal Science listed the structure of water as one of the most compelling scientific puzzles, despite a century's worth of research having been conducted.
In chemistry, a water cluster is formed by molecules of water. When water molecules reach a certain number, the water cluster will present 3D structures. A water cluster with a 3D structure can be called a water droplet.
Previous studies show that the smallest water droplet is composed of six molecules.
Scientists from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and Tsinghua University, using China-developed vacuum ultraviolet free electron lasers, have observed a 3D structure in a water cluster, which is composed of five water molecules.
"This discovery, therefore, has changed the understanding of water structure," said Jiang Ling, a researcher at the CAS institute, also the lead researcher of the study.
The Tsinghua team verified the results through theoretical calculations.
The study was published earlier this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
The vacuum ultraviolet free electron laser facility used in the study is called the Dalian Coherent Light Source. It has operated since July 2018, mainly focusing on the detection of atoms, molecules and clusters, according to the study.
Jiang said the discovery will open new avenues for unveiling the mystery of the microstructure evolution of water. It can also be used to study haze and energy catalysis in the future. (Xinhua)
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