It has a mysterious fourth state that we’d never seen before
Image via Pixabay
The growing list of corrections science textbook writers will have to make could make our third grade curriculum practically unrecognizable. In addition to nixing Pluto from the classic lineup of planets in our solar system, teachers may have to add a second liquid state to the traditional phases of water—aka solid ice, liquid, and gas. Researchers presented this fourth state recently in a paper for the International Journal of Nanotechnology. The writers found that, when heated between 122 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (or 50 and 60 degrees Celsius), water’s physical properties undergo a change that cannot be so easily classified.
But to understand why this is relevant, let’s take a step back. States of matter, as you probably learned in grade school, have to do with the way atoms and molecules arrange themselves depending on the amount of energy present, or lack thereof. Put simply, the higher the temperature, the higher the energy and the more disorganized the atoms become. Less energy is present at cooler temperatures, which is why water molecules are more orderly in a solid ice stage than in vapor. You’ve probably seen some version of this explaining it visually:
Image via University of Waikato
As detailed in this recent paper, researchers found a surprising glitch in water’s physical properties once it reached 122 degrees Fahrenheit, a structural change that appeared to be an extra, less atomically organized liquid phase. Independent researchers will need to conduct follow-up experiments to prove this second liquid state, and should they succeed, the implications could be wide-ranging. Water plays a crucial role in the development of most organisms, which means understanding how it operates could help us better understand our own biological systems on a fundamental level. What this finding proves more than anything, though, is how quickly and easily basic concepts can change. Water’s fourth state may not feel as groundbreaking as discovering the world revolves around the sun, but time will tell how much it may change our understanding of the world in big and small ways.