Science in Society Archive

Life is Water Electric

See also part 1: Electrodynamic Life-Field & Body Electric

Part 2   Quantum Coherent Liquid Crystalline Water & the Life-Field

The powerpoint presentation for both parts of this lecture is also available for download here

The organism is one uniaxial liquid crystal

The tantalizing evidence of a coherent electrodynamic field involved in pattern formation from our experiments [1] (Electrodynamic Activities and Their Role in Organisation of Body Pattern, ISIS scientific publication) suggested that we should be able to see some sign of coherence, specifically a birefringence indicative of ordered alignment of liquid crystalline molecules in the early embryo.

Birefringence is an optical property of a crystal or liquid crystal with atoms or molecules aligned by electric polarity, so that plane-polarized white light (consisting of many wavelengths vibrating in a single direction) is split into two perpendicularly oriented rays, one travelling slower than the other. When the two rays are recombined with a second polarizer (the analyser), the component wavelengths of light interfere constructively or destructively; and that’s how the rainbow colours are generated. In order to amplify the birefringence, it is usual to add a full wave-plate – the wavelength of green light – to the system, giving the characteristic pink background (Figure 1).

Figure 1   Polarizing light microscope (left) and birefringence (right)

I had been working with Drosophila for over 15 years, and yet totally unprepared for what confronted me as I peered down the polarizing microscope. A little larva was crawling out of its egg, carrying a rainbow inside.  Even the fully developed larva was coherent, and coherent beyond our wildest dreams. That’s what the dancing rainbow inside its body was telling us, only it took a while to figure that out. That sublime vision was the immediate inspiration to writing the book [2] The Rainbow and the Worm, The Physics of Organisms (ISIS publication).

Because the expert in charge of the polarizing microscope was away, my colleague Michael Lawrence and I stumbled upon a new setting that was especially good for viewing biological liquid crystals. Instead of positioning the vibrating directions of the full wave plate at 45° to the polarizers, we place it at a small angle of 7.5° [3-5] (Figure 2).  The brilliant rainbow colours tell us that all the liquid crystalline molecules in the cells and tissues of the body are aligned, and more importantly, moving coherently together. As light vibrates much faster than the molecules can move, the orderly alignment of the molecules remains apparent to the light passing through. In fact, the most active parts are the brightest, indicating that the molecular motions are the most coherent.

Figure 2   The new setting stumbled upon that is especially good for biological liquid crystals

Not only that, the entire organism is electrically polarized from head to tail, behaving optically as a single uniaxial crystal, like quartz. This is the life-field unveiled. Only, it is not just the macromolecules that are polarized; instead it is the water making up 70 to 90 % by weight of cells and tissues that’s polarized together with all the macromolecules, as our detailed analysis showed [6]. In fact, it is the water that makes all macromolecules liquid crystalline, because living water, aligned along the abundant surfaces of membranes and macromolecules is itself liquid crystalline [2].

Liquid crystalline water is life

Liquid crystalline water softens the macromolecules, making them flexible and enabling them to act as quantum molecular machines that transfer and transform energy at close to 100 % efficiency. If organisms were working even with the efficiency of electronic machines say our laptop computers, already much enhanced (in both sensitivity and efficiency) over ordinary machines such as the motor-car, the amount of heat generated would burn them up before you could say “Christopher Robin!” The energy transactions in living cells and tissues are much denser than those in a laptop (about a million to a billion times as dense), so organisms have to be a lot more efficient; in other words, they have to approach the zero-entropy quantum coherent state.

The archetypal quantum molecular machine is the enzyme. Enzymes speed up chemical reactions in organisms by a factor of 1010 – 1023. And they can’t do that without water. Water giving flexibility to proteins reduces the energy barrier between reactants and products and increases the probability of quantum tunnelling by a transient compression of the energy barrier.

The Rainbow Worm [2] presents empirical evidence and theoretical arguments that the organism is quantum coherent, and that liquid crystalline water plays the lead in creating and maintaining the coherence of organisms.

But the full extent to which life, and probably the universe and everything depends on water is still unfolding. I am told astronomers now think that water is the most abundant substance in the universe, and it is present at the birth of the universe. In July 2011, two groups of astronomers in the United States discovered the largest, most distant reservoir of water – equivalent to 140 trillion times the water in Earth’s oceans – surrounding a massive black hole in a quasar more than 12 billion light-years away [7] (Figure 3). I realize that the quasars (with their massive black holes) and their supposedly enormous distance from us based on the conventional Big Bang gravitational theory is seriously open to question, according to the alternative electric plasma theory of the universe [8], but the presence of water is not in doubt. Could it be that the universe too, is powered by water electricity?

Figure 3   Water at the birth of the universe?

I wrote a sequel to Rainbow Worm dedicated to water in living organisms [9] Living Rainbow H2O (ISIS publication). This book is my own synthesis of the recent findings in the quantum physics and chemistry of water that tell you why it is so fit for life. It is “the means, medium and message” of life, the beautiful rainbow within that mirrors the one in the sky. I can only give you a flavour of what the book is about, including some new evidence that has turned up since the book was published.

Water is weird & wonderfully fit for life

The water molecule is a dipole with separated positive and negative charges associated with the oxygen and the two hydrogen atoms respectively, so it can engage in dipole interactions with other molecules of water or other dipoles. However, it seems to prefer to hydrogen-bond most of the time, where the hydrogen atom of one molecule is shared between two oxygen atoms in neighbouring molecules. The preferred configuration is a tetrahedron in which a molecule accepts two hydrogen atoms and donates two hydrogen atoms to neighbouring molecules. It is estimated that at ordinary temperatures and pressures, over 90 % of the water molecules are hydrogen-bonded, although the hydrogen bonds flicker on and off randomly in a matter of pic0 (10-12) seconds.

Water is notorious for a host of anomalous properties (see Box 1), due to its propensity to form hydrogen-bonds; and the same anomalies are widely regarded as precisely the qualities that make water fit and essential for life.

Box 1

Major anomalies of water
  • Neighbours of oxygen form gases with hydrogen at ordinary temperatures and pressures, but water boils at 100 ºC
  • Other liquids increase in density on becoming solid, but ice is lighter than water and floats on it, most fortunately for fish and other aquatic inhabitants
  • Liquid water can be supercooled below 0 ºC without freezing, but on heating, the supercooled liquid does not expand like other liquids; instead it contracts to a maximum density at about 4 ºC
  • Water’s compressibility atypically decreases with increasing temperature reaching a minimum at about 46.5 ºC
  • At ordinary temperatures below 35 ºC, increasing pressure results in decreased viscosity, again at odds with other liquids.

Quantum delocalization of hydrogen bond

The key to water’s remarkable properties is the hydrogen-bond interconnecting water molecules, which is usually regarded as classical and electrostatic; but many observations are inconsistent with that picture.

Nobel laureate chemist Linus Pauling (1901-1994) was the first to suggest in 1935 that the hydrogen bond and covalent bond in ice may switch places in view of residual entropy (randomness) existing even at very low temperatures [10], and thus, the hydrogen bond must be at least partly covalent.

In 1999, researchers at Bell Labs New Jersey in the United States, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility of Grenoble in France, and the National Research Council of Canada in Ottawa teamed up to study the hydrogen bond in ordinary ice Ih with inelastic X-ray scattering at the Grenoble facility [11]. Beams of X-rays are bounced off electrons so both the energy of the electron and the X-ray are changed. The team investigated the intensity of scattering as a function of energy or momentum (Compton profile) at different orientations of a carefully prepared slab of ice.  They found that the results were in good agreements with the predictions based on a fully quantum mechanical model, while predictions based on the classical electrostatic model did not agree with the data at all.

Not only the electrons of the hydrogen bonds failed to conform to the classical electrostatic model, the protons too were quantum mechanical.

Researchers at the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in the Netherlands used ultrafast femto-second (10-15 s) pulses of infrared light to excite and probe the O-H covalent bond vibration in liquid water [12]. Using quantum mechanical calculation of the vibrational wave functions, the researchers were able to reproduce the experimental absorption spectrum.

The excited proton can be found simultaneously – delocalized - at the O-H bond distance from either of two neighbouring oxygen atoms (belonging to two different water molecules). This delocalization increases the probability of proton transfer. The energy of excitation to the delocalized state is less than 20 % of the O-H bond energy. These results show that liquid water has quantum properties, and may even be quantum coherent.

Quantum coherent water makes life on earth        

Standard quantum theory does not predict quantum coherence for liquid water, largely because it ignores both quantum fluctuations and the interaction between matter and electromagnetic field; these are only taken into account in quantum electrodynamics field theory. But conventional quantum electrodynamics field theory applies only to gases.

Theoretical physicists Giuliano Preparata (1942 – 2000), Emilio Del Giudice, and colleagues at University of Milan in Italy, extended conventional quantum electrodynamics theory to the condensed phase of liquids; they showed that interaction between the vacuum electromagnetic field and liquid water induces the formation of large, stable coherent domains (CDs) of about 100 nm in diameter at ordinary temperature and pressure, and these CDs may be responsible for all the special properties of water including life itself [13-16] (see [17] Quantum Coherent Water and Life, SiS 51). In particular, the propensity to form tetrahedral directed hydrogen bonds is a consequence of the excited state of water in the coherent domains that would not happen otherwise.

The CD is a resonating cavity produced by the electromagnetic field that ends up trapping the field because the photon acquires an imaginary mass, so the frequency of the CD electromagnetic field becomes much smaller than the frequency of the free field with the same wavelength.

Under ambient conditions, water is an approximately equal mixture of coherent domains surrounded by incoherent regions. This picture, according to Del Giudice and colleagues, is reflected in the many observations supporting a two-state model of liquid water (see [18] Two-States Water Explains All? SiS 32).

The really special thing about water is that the coherent oscillation occurs between the ground state and an excited state at 12.06 eV, just below the ionizing threshold of water at 12. 60 eV. In liquid water, the CD of about 100 nm in diameter contains millions of water molecules, and hence some millions of almost free electrons - forming a plasma - that can be readily donated to electron acceptors.

 I said that water is the means of life, why? Because it is water that fuels the dynamo of life; water is the basis of the energy metabolism that powers all living processes, the chemistry and the electricity of life.

The abundant life on earth, including you and me, depend at bottom on photosynthesis in green plants, algae and cyanobacteria that traps the energy of sunlight by means of chlorophyll (the green pigment in chloroplasts) to split water into hydrogen, electrons and oxygen (equation 1), giving life access to an enormous energy source, and perhaps more importantly, liberating oxygen for the evolution of air-breathing organisms including us that filled the earth with teaming millions of species. (Astronomers now tell us that water is the most abundant substance in the universe, so could there be abundant extra-terrestrial beings similar to us in the universe?)

H2O → 2 H+ + 2 e- + O                                                (1)

Equation (1) says it all. The hydrogen ion (protons) and electrons go to reduce (or fix) carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, and biomass of photosynthetic organisms, which serve as food for herbivores, and down the food web to include the vast majority of air-breathers that break down carbohydrates with oxygen in mitochondria to obtain energy for growth and reproduction, regenerating carbon dioxide and water. This completes the living dynamo of photosynthesis and respiration, the magic roundabout that turns inanimate substances into living organisms.

However, it takes lots of energy to split water, 12.6 eV, to be precise, and requires an energetic photon in the soft X-ray region, which would destroy life, and is not what green plants and cyanobacteria use. They use mainly red and to some extent blue light in the visible spectrum.

More than 50 years ago, Nobel Laureate Albert Szent-Györgyi, the father of biochemistry suggested [19] that water at interfaces was the key to life. He proposed that water at interfaces such as membranes existed in the excited state, which requires considerably less energy to split than water in the ground state. A sign of the excited water is that a voltage should appear at the boundary between interfacial water and bulk water, which was indeed observed. This property of water enables energy transfer to take place in living organisms. Most if not all water in living organisms is interfacial water, as it is almost never further away from surfaces such as membranes or macromolecules than a fraction of a micron.

A vivid demonstration of interfacial water was achieved by Gerald Pollack’s research team at University of Washington, USA (see [20] Water Forms Massive Exclusion Zones, SiS 23). Using a hydrophilic gel and a suspension of microspheres just visible to the eye, they showed that interfacial water apparently tens of microns or even hundreds of microns  thick forms on the surface of the gel, which excludes the microspheres as well as other solutes such as proteins and dyes, and hence referred to as an ‘exclusion zone’ (EZ).  

  EZ water is about 10 fold more viscous than bulk water, it has a peak of light absorption at 270 nm, and emits fluorescence. I am sure Gerry is going to tell us more about this remarkable discovery.

Del Giudice and colleagues [15] suggest that EZ water is in fact a giant coherent domain stabilized on the surface of the attractive gel.  Inside the cell, the EZ would form on surfaces of membranes and macromolecules, as envisaged by Szent-Györgi. Because coherent water is excited water with a plasma of almost free electrons, it can easily transfer electrons to molecules on its surface. The interface between fully coherent interfacial water and normal bulk water becomes a “redox pile”. In line with this proposal, EZ water does indeed act as a battery, as Pollack’s research team demonstrated (see [21] Liquid Crystalline Water at the Interface, SiS 38).

The superconducting electric currents of life

The core chemistry of life is reduction-oxidation or redox reactions that transfer electrons between chemical species, and the movement of electrons is nothing if not an electric current. However, water electricity is special in that it also involves the movement of positive charges associated with protons ([22] Positive Electricity Zaps Through Water Chains, SiS 28). Water conducts protons by a special kind of jump conduction down a chain of water molecules connected by hydrogen bonds. A proton leaps on one end of the chain, and a second leaps off at the other, while electrons are displaced in the other direction.

Some time ago, I described the first direct observation of structured water confined in carbon nanotubes less than 5 nm in diameter that was completely different from the more ordinary looking water confined in larger nanotubes ([23] First Sighting of Structured Water, SiS 28). For one thing, the confined water was far more ordered and structured (Figure 4).


Figure 4   Structured water confined in narrow nanotube (right) compared with ordinary water in wide nanotube (left)

Later, Gary Fullerton and colleagues offered a convincing model of liquid crystalline nanotubes of water interwoven with the triple-helix molecules of collagen molecules in the collagen fibres [24] (see [25] Collagen Water Structure Revealed, SiS 32) (Figure 5), which again suggested to me that such a water structure in the extracellular matrix could also be superconducting.

Figure 5   Collagen water structure revealed

As you have seen earlier, the proton is actually in a delocalized quantum state, even in bulk water under ambient conditions. This delocalization has been confirmed for water confined in nanotubes (see [26] Superconducting Quantum Coherent Water in Nanospace Confirmed). Delocalized protons mean jump conduction can be very fast indeed.

Greatly enhanced proton conduction has now been observed for water confined in Nafion fibres. Nafion is a synthetic polymer used as a proton exchange membrane. The proton conductivity of fibres with diameters >2 μm was similar to the bulk Nafion film (∼0.1 S/cm). However, when the fibre diameter was <1 μm, proton conductivity rose sharply with decreasing fibre diameter and reached 1.5 S/cm for the 400 nm diameter fibre, at least an order of magnitude higher than the bulk Nafion film, or silicon, a semi-conductor. Conductivity of the fibre also increased a hundred fold as relative humidity rose from 50 to 90 %; in comparison, conductivity of the bulk film increased only 10 fold [27].

Nafion channels form inverse micelles, with hydrophilic groups facing the cavity and hydrophobic groups facing out, and are most relevant to the living cell. The interstices between fibres of the cytoskeleton and cytoplasmic membranes form inverse micelle nanospaces and channels that drastically alter enzyme/substrate relationships and enzyme activity compared to bulk phase thermodynamic models that still dominate conventional cell biology (see Chapter 18 of Living Rainbow H2O [5]). The inverse micelle model may be even more relevant to the extracellular milieu of multicellular animals, which is traversed by collagen fibres consisting of fibrils interwoven with nanotubes of water [24]. These water channels aligned with collagen fibres are most likely the anatomical correlates of the acupuncture meridians of traditional Chinese medicine, as I and David Knight first suggested in 1998 [28] and the hypothesis is still very much alive and untested (I am updating it in a separate lecture to be given at a conference in Caltech at the end of January 2013 [29] Liquid Crystalline Superconducting Meridians, ISIS Lecture).

Proton and electron currents coursing inside cells and over different extracellular distances deliver physical and chemical messages concerning the redox status, setting in motion the requisite chemical reactions that restore local and global energy balance.

The electromagnetic language of cells and molecules

Finally, how do cells and molecules actually find one another? Conventional wisdom says hormones and receptors, cell-cell recognition molecules, and lock-and-key principle for molecules that somehow bump into each other at random.

Actually, molecules find each other by electromagnetic fields, by resonating to common frequencies [2]. Molecules that react together were found to share a common frequency; which is how they can attract each other (see [29] The Real Bioinformatics Revolution, SiS 33). This makes even more sense in the context of quantum coherent water.

Del Giudice and colleagues [15] argue that water CDs can be easily excited, and are able to capture surrounding electromagnetic fields to produce coherent excitation in the frequencies of the external fields. This in turn enables selective coherent energy transfer to take place. All molecules have their own spectrum of vibrational frequencies. If the molecule’s spectrum contain a frequency matching that of the water CD, it would get attracted to the CD, and become a guest participant in the CD’s coherent oscillation, and settle on the CD’s surface. Furthermore, the CD’s excitation energy would become available to the guest molecules as activation energy for the chemical reactions.

Is it possible that cells as a whole also intercommunicate by means of electromagnetic and electric signals? This is completely uncharted territory as far as conventional cell biology is concerned. And looking further afield, might stars and galaxies too, intercommunicate via electromagnetic signals?

To conclude

Life is quantum electrodynamical through and through, and water is at the heart of it all. A whole new vista has opened up thanks to all the dedicated water scientists that have contributed to this vision: Emilio Del Guidice, Gerald Pollack, James Clegg, Gilbert Ling, Philippa Wiggins, Walter Drost-Hansen, Norio Ise, Martin Chaplin, Ludwig Edelmann, Gary Fullerton, Ivan Cameron, Frank Mayer, and many others. Our adventures have only just begun. Thank you all.

The powerpoint presentation for both parts of this lecture is also available for download here

Article first published 04/02/13


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  21. Ho MW. Liquid crystalline water at the interface. Science in Society 38,37-39, 2008.
  22. Ho MW. Positive electricity zaps through water chains. Science in Society 28, 49-50, 2005.
  23. Ho MW. First sighting of structured water. Science in Society 28, 47-48, 2005.
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  26. Ho MW. Superconducting quantum coherent water in nanospace confirmed. Science in Society 55, 48-51, 2012.
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  29. Ho MW. Liquid crystalline superconducting meridians. ISIS Lecture at 2nd International Symposium on Physical, Chemical, and Biological Properties of Stable Water Clusters on ‘Water and Health’, 31 January – 1 February, Caltech, Pasadena.
  30. Ho MW. The real bioinformatics revolution. Science in Society 33, 42-45, 2007.

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Todd Millions Comment left 5th February 2013 08:08:11
Beautifly done-Thanx. Would any of these aqueous plasma states,cause the nonlinear(mapped first by Rankine)heat content slopes of steam? You mentioned Dr Becker in a previous post.Along with his foam and wire model of a salamander(extremities,negitive charge,trunk positive)-he related discovering that bone was peizo electric and a rectifier(diode),having its own electical bias and system-May I point out that in conventinal radio-such dc biased ciruits are very sensitive ariels.A further reception range to cells alone perhaps?

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