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‘The Fourth Phase of Water’—How Pure Water Is More Than H2O

The following is the first part of an edited talk given by Gerald H. Pollack, PhD, professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington, Seattle, at the First International Conference on Science and God (ICSG I), in February 2020. The practical applications of understanding the “Fourth Phase of Water” are immense, as it should open new ways to clean water, generate energy, and heal the human body, as will be covered in Part 2.

Ice crystals on a glass window.  ©m.shattock/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Ice crystals on a glass window. ©m.shattock/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Everyone knows about the three common phases of water: solid (ice), liquid, and gas (vapor). I want to talk about a fourth phase of water and focus on how light unexpectedly influences water.

I started my career doing something else, beyond water. We studied the molecular mechanism of muscle contraction for a couple of decades at least. Then I met Gilbert Ling, who passed recently, just shy of 100.

Gilbert had a novel idea that was widely despised.

The idea was that inside a living cell, water is different from the drinking water in a glass. He said that the water inside the cells of your body differs, with the molecules being lined up.


Inside the cell we have lots of macromolecules, mostly proteins, and the surfaces of the proteins are charged. Each water molecule might be considered a dipole, positive at one end and negative at the other, and they would tend to line up with these charges on the surfaces. Gilbert argued, contrary to what most physical chemists believed at the time, that this water would form multilayers of ordered water.

Exclusion Zone (EZ) Water

One of the characteristics of that water is that it is like a crystal, with the molecules lined up. The idea is that when you have a crystal, the same thing would happen as when ice forms: It pushes out solutes and particles, thereby obtaining a pure crystal. Here, we knew there ought to be a region where molecules of water are lined up, and where they exclude particles and solutes.

Within a year we found it. We could see that next to a gel there was a substantial region where the particles just did not go. In this early case the particle-free zone is about 50 μm, about half the thickness of a strand of human hair.


We kept finding this again and again. It turned out that someone had published it forty years earlier in the Journal of Physiology, having almost exactly the same result. We decided to call it the exclusion zone (EZ) because it is a zone that excludes. We call this EZ water for short.

We found this EZ water next to many hydrophilic (“water-loving”) surfaces, which spread out water droplets instead of having them bead up like they do on Teflon. Many of these surfaces generate exclusion-zones and a lot of solutes are excluded.

Then we go back to the question of whether this water really is different from ordinary, bulk water. We have a lot of evidence that EZ water is physically different from bulk water.

By measuring the electrical potential using tiny electrodes, we found that the EZ builds right next to the hydrophilic surface and has a negative charge.

The EZ usually has a negative charge. By measuring the electrical potential using tiny electrodes, we found that the EZ builds right next to the hydrophilic surface and has a negative charge. The region beyond that has an equal, complementary amount of positive charge.

Each water molecule has an oxygen atom with two negative charges and two hydrogen atoms each with a positive charge. The water molecule gets cleaved by some energy so that on one side of the cleavage you have two minus and one plus charges. This dipole aligns itself with the hydrophilic surface and builds this way, layer-by-layer (see Figure). Meanwhile, the proton is cast off and finds itself distributed in the bulk water. What you get is a separation of negative and positive charges, which is effectively a battery made of water.

The EZ layers of water form a hexagonal structure.  ©Gerald Pollack/HJIFUS
The EZ layers of water form a hexagonal structure. ©Gerald Pollack/HJIFUS

To summarize, the EZ structure looks something like the image above. It shows the material and the water beside the material. These EZ layers of water are built one at a time, with a hexagonal motif, which is very common throughout nature. If you were to look at one of these planar surfaces, you could see the hexagonal motif built of oxygen and hydrogen atoms, and if you were to count in one unit cell the number of oxygen and hydrogen atoms, you would find that it is not H2O anymore. You would not expect it to be H2O, because H2O is neutral, and we need a negative charge. We think the unit structure is actually H3O2, and it has a negative charge.

We think the unit [EZ] structure is actually H3O2, and it has a negative charge.

How might this apply to the insides of a living cell? The inside of a cell is really crowded, meaning that all the water inside the cell is near these proteins or other macromolecules, so that all of it will be EZ water, which has a negative charge.


You can see oxygens situated at each of these vertices. It turns out that each oxygen atom has not just two states but five different oxidation states: –2, –1, 0, +1, and +2. The theoretical capacity for information storage in the EZ, which is in the cells in your body, is huge. I think we calculated about seven or eight orders of magnitude greater than what is in a flash drive right now.

EZ Water Reacts to Light

Is EZ water physically distinct from bulk water? The answer is, “Yes,” as there are many features that distinguish it. It is a layered honeycomb structure as best we can surmise, it has information storage capability, and it may also respond to intention.


I pointed out that this is a battery, and everybody knows batteries need charging. Your cell phone will not work if you forget to charge it overnight. The question is, what charges this battery—what kind of energy can create this potential difference?

I must admit that for two or three years we could not figure it out. Then a student working in the laboratory found out that it was actually light. He shined the lamp on the chamber and asked me to look at what was happening.


The EZ expands upon contact with infrared light.  ©Gerald Pollack/HJIFUS
The EZ expands upon contact with infrared light. ©Gerald Pollack/HJIFUS

This black here is a hydrophilic material, which in this case is Nafion, a polymer we use often, although not exclusively. It produces nice exclusion zones as you can see here with the particles beyond. Wherever my student was shining the light, the exclusion zone expanded greatly. When he turned off the light, after a few tens of seconds the EZ went back down to the original size.

If light is expanding this zone, then maybe the photons provide the energy that builds this exclusion zone and the separation of charge that comes with it. Our experiments showed that the most effective wavelength is infrared, especially at 3 μm, almost a thousand times more powerful than visible light.

Our experiments showed that the most effective wavelength is infrared, especially at 3 μm, almost a thousand times more powerful than visible light.

Because infrared is everywhere, it means that if you have a hydrophilic material next to water, you will always have a certain amount of EZ water next to the hydrophilic surface. More infrared results in a bigger exclusion zone. Once the infrared light is taken away, it comes back down to the original size.

In terms of energy for buildup, we know that EZ is powered by light, or photonic energy, which orders the water, reduces the entropy, and charges the water battery. A glass of water is not at equilibrium with the environment. It is constantly absorbing energy from the environment. Then, the question arises, can you harvest this energy from the water?


An example comes from another undergraduate student. I asked him to put a Nafion tube into a chamber with water and some particles, and to use the microscope to see whether an exclusion zone was building either outside or just inside the wall of the tube.

Once he did that, he was shocked to see that water kept flowing through the tube without stopping because usually you need pressure to drive water, which has viscosity, through a tube.

In your body, the heart develops pressure to send blood through the arteries. In our experiment, there was no pressure gradient to drive the flow because the tube was lying horizontally, and the pressure at each end of the tube was identical. The only energy supply available was the absorption of light, especially infrared, which could be the power source for all of this.

Here is how it works. You can take a tube, fill it with water, making sure there are no air bubbles, and then stick it into a chamber containing a bath of water and microspheres. Then look through the microscope to see what happens. We used green light to reduce the total amount of light, as shown below.


A distinct exclusion zone is formed in water with microspheres.  ©Gerald Pollack/HJIFUS
A distinct exclusion zone is formed in water with microspheres. ©Gerald Pollack/HJIFUS

We could not easily find materials that were narrow enough and had hydrophilic properties, so we created our own. We took a gel, and while it was still a liquid, we stuck a wire through it. Then, as it was gelling, we pulled the wire out. This gave us a chunk of gel (polyacrylic acid) with a tunnel running through it.


We took this tube of gel and stuck it into a bath of water and microspheres. When we put it in the water with microspheres, the first thing that happens is that the EZ grows, pushing all the microspheres toward the center line. We have now tried eight different gels. We get the same result, but the flow rate is different.

Work is done, so energy is required. The only energy that the system has come into contact with is the energy from the infrared light absorbed by the water in the chamber. This water, then, is a transducer that transduces light energy into mechanical energy.


In conclusion, the main point I want to mention is that we have all learned that water has three phases: solid (ice), liquid, and vapor. I have presented to you evidence that there is a fourth phase. The structure of the EZ is not so different from the structure of ice. In fact, if you want to freeze water, we found it is obligatory to go through the EZ phase to get to ice; and conversely, if you melt ice, you must also pass through EZ water to get to liquid water.

 

*Gerald H. Pollack, PhD, is a professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington, Seattle. He is also the executive director of The Institute for Venture Science and cofounder of 4th-Phase Inc.

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