Science in Society Archive

I-SIS miniseries "Water, Water, Everywhere"

In 1992, the United Nations designated March 22 as "World Day for Water".

Water is absolutely necessary for life, more so than food. But the world’s available fresh water supply is fast dwindling. Even though there is abundant water on the planet, less than half a percent of it is available for human uses.

Meanwhile, global water consumption is rising faster than population growth. More than one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, 2.5 billion lack access to proper sanitation; and more than 5 million die annually from water-borne diseases. The United Nations projects that by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages or lack of clean water. The World Bank’s vice- president predicts that within this century, wars will be fought over water.

To deepen our appreciation of water, we present the latest findings on the strangeness of water, how it supports life and health, and how it might enable homeopathic remedies to work, even when diluted beyond the point where any molecules of the dissolved substances are present. More remarkably, how ice crystals may give us messages.

  1. Molecules Clump on Dilution A surprising discovery that molecules dissolved in water clump together when the solution is diluted is said to explain homeopathy. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho explains why the result flies in the face of conventional chemistry.
  2. Homeopathy Enters the Mainstream Homeopathy is entering the mainstream in the UK. Sam Burcher reports on some recent findings that bear on a centuries-old controversy that still baffles mainstream science.
  3. The Strangeness of Water & Homeopathic 'Memory' 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.
  4. Crystal Clear - Messages from Water Could crystals of water be the answer to all our problems? Dr. Mae-Wan Ho reviews the amazing work of Japanese water scientist.

Molecules Clump on Dilution

A surprising discovery that molecules dissolved in water clump together when the solution is diluted is said to explain homeopathy. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho explains why the result flies in the face of conventional chemistry.

Two chemists from the Kwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea made news last year [1]. Their surprising discovery that molecules dissolved in water clump together was reported in the New Scientist and the popular media as a possible explanation of why homeopathy works.

The obvious 'explanation' is that some dilute solutions may have more molecules in it than expected, perhaps even at dilutions beyond the point at which any molecule could be left in solution. But if some parts of a solution contain more molecules than expected, other parts would contain less, so most of the time, homeopathy should not work at all. And that, indeed, is the conventional wisdom of the medical establishment.

The researchers themselves were surprised by the suggestion that their work had any relevance to homeopathy. However, the finding itself has significance far beyond its applicability to homeopathy.

The investigations started on a class of chemical substances known as cyclodextrins (DC), which, when combined with non-polar molecules (molecules without electrical charge, see "The strangeness of water", this series), enable the latter to dissolve in water. They make a complex of b-cyclodextrin with [60]fullerene, more popularly known as Buckyball, or Buckminster fullerene, in honour of architect/polymath Buckminster Fuller, who invented the shape as a geodesic dome. These complexes were found to form clusters in water.

But then scientists found that a wide range of other substances such as salts and polymers also form clusters in solution.

The new discovery made by the South Korean researchers is that cluster size increased steadily with increasing dilution in water. In contrast, no clustering of the molecules occurs in organic solvents. They found the same behaviour for cyclodextrin-fullerene complex, b-cyclodextrin by itself, sodium chloride, disodium guanosine monophosphate and a DNA oligonucleotide.

Using the technique of laser light scattering, it was possible to estimate the size of size of b-cyclodextrin clusters. The diameter of the clusters increased from 0.55 mm at a starting concentration of 0.216 mM to 3.255 mm at 0.01mM. The clusters were confirmed by scanning electron microscopy after the solutions were dried.

Interestingly, when the starting concentration was 14.27mM and diluted down to 0.3524mM, cluster size increased from 0.393 mm to 3.12 mm. Thus, the size of the clusters varied depending on the starting concentration.

In other words, "the solution history is an important factor in the growth dynamics of the aggregates". That was the really unexpected finding, and flies in the face of conventional linear chemistry.

For sodium chloride, a starting solution of 5.5M diluted down to 0.785M gave an increase in aggregate size from 1.491 to 4.95 mm. The results were similar in all the other substances investigated. The increase in cluster size was non-linear, slow at first, and rapid at higher dilutions.

The increase in cluster size was "almost instantaneous", and remained stable at least over the next three days.

Why do these clusters form? No one knows for sure, and certainly the importance of solution history is impossible to accommodate within conventional, classical chemistry. Could it be yet another manifestation of "The strangeness of water"? (this series).

Article first published 29/05/02

1. Samal S and Geckeler KE. Unexpected solute aggregation in water on dilution. Chem. Commun.2001, 2224-5.

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