I-SIS miniseries "Water, Water, Everywhere"
Is there any reason for homeopathic remedies to work? Does the strangeness of water hold the key? Dr. Mae-Wan Ho describes recent ideas on how the quantum electrodynamic properties of water could provide the basis of homeopathic 'memory' and how one might investigate them.
Water is the most abundant substance on the surface of the earth and is the main constituent of all living organisms. The human body is about 65 percent water by weight, with some tissues such as the brain and the lung containing nearly 80 percent. The water in our body is almost completely tied up with proteins, DNA and other macromolecules in a liquid crystalline matrix that enables our body to function in a remarkably coherent and co-ordinated way (see "To science with love", this issue). Although water is the most familiar of liquids, it is also the most mysterious. Water is densest at 4 C and expands on freezing at 0 C, which is why ice floats, fortunately for fish and other aquatic creatures.
The water molecule consists of an oxygen atom bonded to two hydrogen atoms (H2O). The water molecule has the shape of a tetrahedron, a three-dimensional triangle. The oxygen atom sits in the heart of the tetrahedron, the hydrogens point at two of the four corners and two electron clouds point to the remaining opposite corners. The clouds of negative charge result from the atomic structures of oxygen and hydrogen and the way they combine in the water molecule.
Oxygen has eight negatively charged electrons disposed around its positively charged nucleus rather like layers of the onion, two in the inner shell and six in an outer shell. The inner shell's capacity is filled, but the outer shell can hold as many as eight. Hydrogen has only one electron, so oxygen, by combining with two hydrogen atoms, completes its outer electron shell. The hydrogen's electron is slightly more attracted to the oxygen nucleus than its own nucleus, which makes the water molecule polar, and it ends up with two clouds of slightly negative charge around the oxygen atom, and its two hydrogen atoms are left with slightly positive charges.
The positively charged hydrogen of each water molecule can attract the negatively charged oxygen of another, giving rise to a hydrogen-bond (H-bond) between molecules. Each molecule of water can form four H-bonds, two between the hydrogen atoms and the oxygen atoms of two other molecules, and two between its oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms of other molecules. Ice is usually composed of a lattice of water molecules arranged with perfect tetrahedral geometry. In liquid water, however, the structure can be quite random and irregular. The actual number of H-bonds per liquid water molecule ranges from three to six, with an average of about 4.5. At ordinary temperatures, liquid water consists of dynamic clusters of 50 to 100 water molecules , in which the H-bonds are constantly making and breaking (or flickering). The tetrahedral H-bonded molecule also gives water a loosely packed structure compared with that of most other liquids, such as oils or liquid nitrogen.
Water offers eternal fascination for physicists and physical chemists, not the least of the reasons being that it enables DNA and all proteins to function properly in the living organism (see Box 1).
Water is the real molecule of life
The importance of water to living processes derives not only from its ability to form hydrogen bonds with other water molecules, but especially from its capacity to interact with various types of biological molecules. Because of its polar nature, water readily interacts with other polar and charged molecules such as acids, salts, sugars and various regions of proteins and DNA. As a result of these interactions, water can dissolve those substances, which are consequently described as hydrophilic (water loving). In contrast water does not interact well with nonpolar molecules such as fats, oil and water don't mix. Nonpolar molecules are hydrophobic (water-fearing).
Hydrophobic interactions in water are very important for protein folding, because the chain folds so as to keep the hydrophobic parts inside, and expose the hydrophilic parts on the surfaces next to water. Proteins only work when they are folded properly and when there is water around, when they become 'plasticised' or flexible.
The properties of water and its interactions with proteins and DNA have been extensively studied using molecular dynamic simulations. These computer simulations follow the motions of populations of molecules according to interactions between atoms within the molecules and between molecules.
Molecular dynamic simulations show that while polar molecules such as urea form hydrogen bonds with water and dissolve in it, water molecules either don't mix at all with nonpolar substances such as fat and oil, or tend to form a cage around the molecules.
These simulations also show that water is integral to the structure and function of all macromolecules. Early attempts to create molecular dynamics of models of DNA failed because repulsive forces between the negatively charged phosphate groups in the DNA backbone cause the molecule to break up after only 50 picoseconds. (The 50 picoseconds are in terms of real time as experienced by the DNA, and would have taken hours, if not days of computer time.) In the late 1980s, Levitt and Miriam Hirshberg showed that when water molecules were included, the DNA double-helical structure was stabilised by the water molecules forming hydrogen bonds with the phosphate groups. Subsequent simulations showed that water interacts with nearly every part of the DNA's double helix, including the base pairs.
In contrast, water does not penetrate deeply into the structures of proteins, whose hydrophobic regions are tucked within. So, protein-water simulations have focused on the protein surface, which is much less tightly packed than the protein interior. From experiments, we know that heat causes the alpha-helices (a predominant structural feature of proteins) to uncurl, but in early simulations without water, the helix remained intact. Only by adding water were Levitt and Valerie Daggett able to mimic an alpha helix's actual behaviour.
Recent investigations in our own Institute are showing that water is integral to the liquid crystalline structure of living organisms. The liquid crystalline structure of organisms holds the key to rapid intercommunication within the organism and the perfect co-ordination of living processes.
While most physicists and biochemists are still trying to understand the interactions of water molecules in terms of classical mechanics, a number of physicists have begun to think of the quantum properties of water.
Conventionally, quantum properties are thought to belong to elementary particles of less than 10-10m, while the macroscopic world of our everyday life is 'classical', in that things in it behave according to Newton's laws of motion. Between the macroscopic classical world and the microscopic quantum world is the mesoscopic domain, where the distinction is getting increasingly blurred. Indeed, physicists are discovering quantum properties in large collections of atoms and molecules in the nano-metre to micro-metre range, particularly when the molecules are packed closely together in the liquid phase.
Recently, chemists have made the surprising discovery that molecules form clusters that increase in size with dilution. These clusters measure several micro-metres in diameter. The increase in size occurs nonlinearly with dilution and it depends on history, flying in the face of classical chemistry (see "Molecules clump on dilution", this issue). Indeed, there is as yet no explanation for the phenomenon. It may well be another reflection of the strangeness of water that depends on its quantum properties.
In the mid1990s, quantum physicists Del Giudice and Preparata and other colleagues in University of Milan, in Italy, argued that quantum coherent domains measuring 100nm in diameter could arise in pure water. They show how the collective vibrations of the water molecules in the coherent domain eventually become phase-locked to the fluctuations of the global electromagnetic field (see Box 2). In this way, long-lasting, stable oscillations could be maintained in the water.
Quantum coherence of water
If water is kept streaming in a pipe pass the poles of an ordinary permanent magnet, scales no longer form in the pipe, and old scales often dissolve, corrosion is sharply reduced and surface tension diminished. This magnetic property of water has been known as early as 1890, and devices exploiting it are commercially available and patents have been issued. But it cannot be explained in terms of classical physics and chemistry.
Water molecules are generally assumed to have a tetrahydral structure (see main text). However, there is no evidence that such a structure exists in the isolated molecule, and to adopt such a structure requires an energy at least 5kT (five times the random thermal energy), and it would not be stable against quantum fluctuations that pervades 'empty' space (vacuum fluctuations).
In quantum theory, especially quantum electrodynamics, matter is always associated with an electromagnetic field, and all fields have an intrinsic fluctuation. Del Giudice and Preparata proposed that the only stable configuration is to have fluctuations of the molecules coupled to those of the electromagnetic field. As a result, the water molecules acquire a collective behaviour and become restructured, since they are now effectively the superposition of two different molecular states: the excited and the ground states, which might differ by several electron volts (units of electric energy). Through this restructuring, the molecules can form H-bonds.
The molecules oscillate between the two energy levels in tune with the electromagnetic field fluctuations, and by doing so, produce a molecular current that couples with the electromagnetic field. The total energy of the fluctuations is thus the sum of three terms,
The relative magnitude of these terms depends on the density of water molecules. For very dilute system (as in a gas), the third term is negligible, and the fluctuations will fade away. However, the third term increases with density faster than the first two. There is then a critical value of the density beyond which the total energy of the fluctuation becomes negative. The fluctuating electromagnetic field starts a runaway evolution, as the negative energy makes it unstable, and as a result its amplitude tends to increases. At the same time, the molecules' density becomes larger, and the combined system proceeds towards a state of minimum energy.
The stability of the final configuration requires matter and field to evolve in unison, their respective phases locked in. This can happen only if the electromagnetic oscillations slow down; but the wavelength remains constant. This constraint guarantees that the field cannot irradiate out of the system. So, at the end of the runaway process, the collapsing system finds a stable dynamical configuration where all molecules oscillate coherently in tune with an electromagnetic field trapped within the region (the coherence domain, CD), whose diameter is the wavelength of the electromagnetic mode,
R(CD) = l/2 = p/(E(2) - E(1))
Where E(2) and E (1) are the energies of the excited and ground states respectively.
For molecules with many excited levels such as water, the system will settle to a mode that has the lowest critical density.
In the case of water, the selected excited level has an energy of 12.06 EV above the ground state, giving the coherence domain a radius of 50 nanometer (nm) and a critical density is just 0.31g/cm3, which coincides with the thermodynamic critical point (phase transition from gas to liquid). Preparata showed that the molecules are at equilibrium with their field when they assemble themselves into an inner subsphere having a radius ¾ of the CD radius, ie. 37.5 nm. In the case of water, the frequency of oscillation is estimated to be about 0.26eV in energy units. Eventually, interactions between neighboring CDs make the whole system settle down to a coherent macroscopic region much larger than the single domain.
Hydrogen bonding is the consequence of QED coherence, and not the other way round.
When molecules are dissolved in water with a long-range field, it is able to transmit the electromagnetic messages coming from the molecules, they can attract each other by resonance.
In water molecules belonging to the coherent phase, the electron cloud oscillates in such a way that it is brought to a 5d configuration, close to the free electron region, enabling the electron to 'hop' into a nearby molecule. Because of the electron phase coherence, the oscillating electrons of all molecules could concur in the same event. A hopping conduction could then be induced in the coherence domain, where the core formed by one electron per molecule would slide freely inside the coherence domain. This could give rise to an electronic rotator of frequency about 35 kHz of very long life times. These will align in a magnetic field, such as the earth's field, and produce a collective rotational frequency of 0.7Mhz. Stronger fields will produce much faster rotations, accounting for the magnetic properties exhibited.
One way in which 'memory' might be stored in water is through the excitation of long-lasting coherent oscillations specific to the substances in the homeopathic remedy dissolved in water. Interaction of water molecules with other molecules changes the collective structure of water, which would in turn determine the specific coherent oscillations that will develop. If these become stabilised and maintained by phase coupling between the global field and the excited molecules, then, even when the dissolved substances are diluted away, the water may still carry the coherent oscillations that can 'seed' other volumes of water on dilution.
The discovery that dissolved substances form increasingly large clusters is compatible with the existence of a coherent field in water that can transmit attractive resonance between the molecules when the oscillations are in phase, leading to clumping in dilute solutions. As the cluster of molecules increases in size, its electromagnetic signature is correspondingly amplified, reinforcing the coherent oscillations carried by the water.
But then, one should expect changes in some physical properties in the water that could be detectable.
Unfortunately, all attempts to detect such coherent oscillations by usual spectroscopic and nuclear magnetic resonance methods have yielded ambiguous results. This is not surprising, in view of the finding that cluster size of the dissolved molecules depends on the precise history of dilution rather than on concentration of the molecules (see "Molecules clump on dilution", this issue).
It is possible that despite variations in the cluster-size of the dissolved molecules and detailed microscopic structure of the water, a specificity of coherent oscillations may nonetheless exist. The failure of the usual detection methods is because they depend on measuring the microscopic properties of individual molecules, or of small aggregates. Instead, what is needed is a method for detecting collective global properties over many, many molecules. Some obvious possibilities that suggest themselves are measurements of freezing points and boiling points, viscosity, density, diffusivity, and magnetic properties.
One intriguing possibility for detecting changes in collective global properties of water that is not so obvious is by means of crystallisation. Crystals are formed from macroscopic collections of molecules. Like other measurements that depend on global properties, crystals amplify the subtle changes in individual molecules that would have been undetectable otherwise (see next article).
Article first published 31/05/02
1. Schulte J. Bio-information between quantum and continuum physics. The mesocopic picture. in Ultra High Dilution and Homoeopathy (J Schulte & PC Endler eds), pp. 45-68, Kluwer Academic Publishers, The Netherlands, 1998.
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