The 2 Forms of Water: Ortho and Para

ortho para

It is common knowledge that water, or H2O, is an oxygen atom linked to two hydrogen atoms. However, at the molecular level, water exists in two different forms called isomers.

The two forms of water have nearly identical physical properties, but chemists can tell them apart by the orientation of the nuclear spin of the hydrogen atoms. The water is either called ortho- or para-water depending on whether the spins are aligned in the same or in the opposite direction of each other.

In a recent experiment, researchers were able to separate the hydrogen atoms using a method based on electric fields. Scientists could initiate controlled reactions between the pre-sorted water isomers and ultracold diazenylium ions, which were held in a trap. During this process, the diazenylium ion transfers its proton to the water molecule.

This same reaction can be observed in the chemistry of interstellar space.

Researchers used low temperatures, close to absolute zero. This creates the ideal conditions to precisely prepare the individual quantum state and allows scientists to define the energy content of the molecules.This also causes a controlled reaction.

It was discovered that para-water reacts 25 percent faster than ortho-water. This can be explained in the nuclear spin that influences the rotation of the water molecules.

As a result, different attractive forces act between the reaction partners.Para-water can attract a reaction partner stronger than the ortho-water, which leads to an increased chemical reaction.

Scientists in Switzerland separated the two lesser-known forms of water and proved that the H2O molecules go through different chemical activities.The majority of the water consumed is either ortho- or para-water.

By observing water at the molecular level, researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland were able to determine the type of water based on the direction the hydrogen atoms moved. This is called the nuclear spin.

When water molecules are cooled to the point of freezing, the nuclear spin movement changed. At the freezing point, hydrogen atoms reacted differently. This simulates the temperature of outer space.

Therefore, the current study could provide new insights on how building blocks of life interact with one another in the interstellar portion of the universe.

In the past, there were multiple attempts to determine the exact difference between ortho- and para-water.The separation of the two was difficult because of their indistinguishable physical properties.

The research team was led by Stefan Willitsch from the University of Basel’s Department of Chemistry. The team successfully looked into the water’s ability to endure specific chemical reactions.

They used a method that was developed by Jochen Küpper, who is from the Hamburg Center for Free-Electron Laser Science. It was this team that cooled the water molecules to close to absolute-zero. Their findings were published in Nature Communications. The study concluded that both ortho- and para-water have a similar chemical composition – the nuclear spins of the hydrogen atom greatly differ.

The nuclear spins of the ortho-water move in a parallel direction, while the nuclear spins of the para-water moved in the opposite direction.

Also, chemically, para-water reacted 25 percent faster than the ortho-water. Therefore, para-water is more capable of rapid chemical activity.

According to Willitsch, defining the difference between the two forms of water will not make a significant impact in the field of chemistry. People will also not be able to experience if ortho-water tastes differently than para-water.

Once the waters are stored at room temperature, the molecules will mix together, suggesting the separation is only possible in the laboratory.

Regardless, Willitsch believed the team’s discovery provides insight into the water people drink.

It’s one of the most fundamental molecules on this planet – in the entire universe, so this is quite an important piece in the whole puzzle.

Beware of magic water proponents to claim that para-water is superior, and people should pay more for it.

However, outside the laboratory and space, this information is meaningless. As far as science is concerned, para-water is not different than any other water.

By Jeanette Smith

Sources:

Science 2.0: Science 2.0 Explains: How Water Exists In Two Different Forms At The Molecular Level
Tech Times: Drinking Water Actually Comes In Two Forms: Ortho-Water And Para-Water

Image Courtesy of perlaroques' Flickr Page - Creative Commons License

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