The snapshots, which focused on groups of three water molecules, revealed that as an excited water molecule starts to vibrate, its hydrogen atoms tug oxygen atoms from neighboring water molecules closer before pushing them away with its newfound strength, expanding the space between the molecules.
“For a long time, researchers have been trying to understand the hydrogen bond network using spectroscopy techniques,” said Jie Yang, a former SLAC scientist and now an associate professor at Tsinghua University in China, who led the study. “The beauty of this experiment is that for the first time we were able to directly observe how these molecules move.”
A window on water
The researchers hope to use this method to gain more insight into the quantum nature of hydrogen bonds and the role they play in water’s strange properties, as well as the key role these properties play in many chemical and biological processes.
“This has really opened a new window to study water,” said Xijie Wang, a SLAC distinguished staff scientist and study collaborator. “Now that we can finally see the hydrogen bonds moving, we’d like to connect those movements with the broader picture, which could shed light on how water led to the origin and survival of life on Earth and inform the development of renewable energy methods.”
MeV-UED is an instrument of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) user facility, operated by SLAC on behalf of the DOE Office of Science, which funded this research.
Citation: Yang et al., Nature, 25 August 2021 (10.1038 / s41586-021-03793-9)
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