Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Illuminating the no-man's land of waters' surface: Strong electric charge observed at the interface between oil and water is not due to impurities

Date:
November 27, 2012
Source:
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Summary:
Scientist are refuting previously held theories and offering a new explanation of electrochemical phenomena occurring at the interface between water and a hydrophobic matter. A new paradigm may be on the horizon.

Nonlinear optics and light diffusion allow to see the unseeable.
Credit: Copyright 2012 EPFL

Water repelling molecules are said to be hydrophobic. The hydration -- or formation of water interfaces around hydrophobic molecules -- is important for many biological processes: protein folding, membrane formation, transport of proteins across an interface, the transmission of action potentials across membranes. It is involved as well in the process of creating mayonnaise, or in the fact that you can get rid of fat with soap. Hydrophobic interfaces although long studied, are poorly understood.

Here's an amusing kitchen-table experiment to illustrate waters unusual properties: put a drop of pure insulating oil in a glass of pure, non-conducting water, and create an electric field using two wires hooked up to a battery. You'll see the oil move from the negative to the positive pole of the little circuit you've created. You have created charge in a mixture that was neutral, and a huge amount of it too, judging from the speed at which the droplets move. The same thing happens for gas bubbles in water; the phenomenon of charging applies to all hydrophobic/water interfaces.

A century of debates

It's not a new discovery; scientists have observed the phenomenon in the middle of the 19th century. But despite more than a century of research, the reason why such a huge electric charge exists is still the subject of heated debate.

In an article published this week in Angewandte Chemie -- a journal of reference in the field -- EPFL scientist Sylvie Roke challenges a hypothesis put forward last spring in the same journal. With experimental proof to back her up, the holder of the Julia Jacobi chair in photomedicine makes her case: the phenomenon is not caused by the inevitable "impurities" present in oils, as her colleagues claim, but rather by certain intrinsic properties of the water molecules involved.

Show the unseeable

For proof, Roke turns to the technologies in which she is an expert -- nonlinear optics and light diffusion. Using carefully filtered lasers channeled through a complex circuit of mirrors and lenses, she "hits" her sample -- barely a drop -- and measures the wavelength of the light that escapes from it. With this she can detect whether or not there are nanoscopic molecules on the interface between the oil and the water.

The precision of the observations "shows that negative charges exist even in a total absence of surface impurities, and thus the explanation put forward by my colleagues, which was derived from charge measurements and chemical titrations of the bulk liquids, doesn't hold up," says Roke. "We have developed a unique apparatus that can distinctly measure the interfacial structure of a layer on the sub-nanometer length scale that surrounds a droplet of oil in water. Thus, we can 'see' what is on the interface, and do not have to deduce it from comparing bulk properties, which is far less accurate."

Disproving a hypothesis isn't enough to explain a phenomenon, however. Roke is studying a promising avenue, that explores the intrinsic quantum nature of the water molecule itself, which might be responsible for the phenomenon. "The measurements we've made as part of this refutation could be used to try and prove this explanation," she says. "It's fascinating, because quantum effects (the smallest of the smallest) might be responsible for macroscopic charging effects that influence so many properties that relate to the functioning of the human body."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kailash C. Jena, Rüdiger Scheu, Sylvie Roke. Surface Impurities Are Not Responsible For the Charge on the Oil/Water Interface: A Comment. Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2012; DOI: 10.1002/anie.201204662

Cite This Page:

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. "Illuminating the no-man's land of waters' surface: Strong electric charge observed at the interface between oil and water is not due to impurities." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121127130250.htm>.
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. (2012, November 27). Illuminating the no-man's land of waters' surface: Strong electric charge observed at the interface between oil and water is not due to impurities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121127130250.htm
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. "Illuminating the no-man's land of waters' surface: Strong electric charge observed at the interface between oil and water is not due to impurities." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121127130250.htm (accessed August 29, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Friday, August 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Australian Airlines Relax Phone Ban Too

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) — Qantas and Virgin say passengers can use their smartphones and tablets throughout flights after a regulator relaxed a ban on electronic devices during take-off and landing. As Hayley Platt reports the move comes as the two domestic rivals are expected to post annual net losses later this week. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Hurricane Marie Brings Big Waves to California Coast

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 26, 2014) — Huge waves generated by Hurricane Marie hit the Southern California coast. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Chinese Researchers Might Be Creating Supersonic Submarine

Newsy (Aug. 26, 2014) — Chinese researchers have expanded on Cold War-era tech and are closer to building a submarine that could reach the speed of sound. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Breakingviews: India Coal Strained by Supreme Court Ruling

Reuters - Business Video Online (Aug. 26, 2014) — An acute coal shortage is likely to be aggravated as India's supreme court declared government coal allocations illegal, says Breakingviews' Peter Thal Larsen. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins