New Quantum Tunneling State of Water Molecules Discovered (Press Release)

The following press release was published by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Ron Walli, Communications
[email protected], 865.576.0226

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., April 22, 2016 – Neutron scattering and computational modeling have revealed unique and unexpected behavior of water molecules under extreme confinement that is unmatched by any known gas, liquid or solid states.

In a paper published in Physical Review Letters, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory describe a new tunneling state of water molecules confined in hexagonal ultra-small channels – 5 angstrom across – of the mineral beryl. An angstrom is 1/10-billionth of a meter, and individual atoms are typically about 1 angstrom in diameter.

The discovery, made possible with experiments at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the United Kingdom, demonstrates features of water under ultra confinement in rocks, soil and cell walls, which scientists predict will be of interest across many disciplines.

“At low temperatures, this tunneling water exhibits quantum motion through the separating potential walls, which is forbidden in the classical world,” said lead author Alexander Kolesnikov of ORNL’s Chemical and Engineering Materials Division. “This means that the oxygen and hydrogen atoms of the water molecule are ‘delocalized’ and therefore simultaneously present in all six symmetrically equivalent positions in the channel at the same time. It’s one of those phenomena that only occur in quantum mechanics and has no parallel in our everyday experience.”

The existence of the tunneling state of water shown in ORNL’s study should help scientists better describe the thermodynamic properties and behavior of water in highly confined environments such as water diffusion and transport in the channels of cell membranes, in carbon nanotubes and along grain boundaries and at mineral interfaces in a host of geological environments.

ORNL co-author Lawrence Anovitz noted that the discovery is apt to spark discussions among materials, biological, geological and computational scientists as they attempt to explain the mechanism behind this phenomenon and understand how it applies to their materials.

“This discovery represents a new fundamental understanding of the behavior of water and the way water utilizes energy,” Anovitz said. “It’s also interesting to think that those water molecules in your aquamarine or emerald ring – blue and green varieties of beryl – are undergoing the same quantum tunneling we’ve seen in our experiments.”

While previous studies have observed tunneling of atomic hydrogen in other systems, the ORNL discovery that water exhibits such tunneling behavior is unprecedented. The neutron scattering and computational chemistry experiments showed that, in the tunneling state, the water molecules are delocalized around a ring so the water molecule assumes an unusual double top-like shape.

“The average kinetic energy of the water protons directly obtained from the neutron experiment is a measure of their motion at almost absolute zero temperature and is about 30 percent less than it is in bulk liquid or solid water,” Kolesnikov said. “This is in complete disagreement with accepted models based on the energies of its vibrational modes.”

First principle simulations made by Narayani Choudhury of Lake Washington Institute of Technology and University of Washington-Bothell showed that the tunneling behavior is coupled to the vibrational dynamics of the beryl structure.

Co-authors of the paper, titled “Quantum Tunneling of Water in Beryl: a New State of the Water Molecule,” were Timothy Prisk, Eugene Mamontov, Andrey Podlesnyak, George Ehlers and David Wesolowski of ORNL, George Reiter of the University of Houston and Andrew Seel of Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Funding for this research was provided by DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences. The SNS is a DOE Office of Science User Facility. The paper is available at

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

  • TVulgaris

    This was exactly my first association of memory from the first few paragraphs of the article- I seem to remember from some of Dr. Pollack’s lectures I’ve watched he mentioned some things connecting QM, co-ordination (and habit), and geometry. He is a delightful and engaging researcher.

  • Zephir

    The tunneling of water inside the narrow layers and channels is not so esoteric effect, as one may think. The well known crunching and squeaking of fresh cold snow under foot bellows into similar category of phenomena, like the superfluidity and supersolidity of liquid helium

  • Zephir

    /*new tunneling state of water molecules confined in hexagonal ultra-small channels – 5 angstrom across – of the mineral beryl*/

    The old case of “polywater” comes on mind here. In 1966 the Soviet scientist Boris Valdimirovich Derjaguin lectured in England on a new form of water that he claimed had been discovered by another Soviet scientist, N. N. Fedyakin. Formed by heating water and letting it condense
    in quartz capillaries, this “anomalous water,” as it was originally called, had a density higher than normal water, a viscosity 15 times that of normal water, a boiling point higher than 100 degrees Centigrade, and a freezing point lower than zero degrees. Over the next several
    years, hundreds of papers appeared in the scientific literature describing the properties of what soon came to be known as polywater. Some theorists even warned that if polywater escaped from the laboratory, it could autocatalytically polymerize all of the world’s water.

    But as we know from history of science, there is no smoke without fire often. We already know about few anomalies, when the water retains its state for surprisingly long time, like the autothixotropy of water and/or so-called Mpemba effect. Therefore the critical reevaluation of
    experiments with water isolated from narrow pores would be desirable.

    Not everything is already understood well about water. For example the glaciers exposed to high pressure often exhibit pronouncedly blue color. They lose their color after exposing to daylight which is effect similar to bleaching of many other dyes at sunlight. The blue ice is also three to five times harder than the ice you might have in your gin and tonic. The official explanation is, the snow of such icebergs gets outgassed by prolonged action of strong pressure at the bottom of glaciers, which makes the resulting ice fully transparent, so that the light can bounce from surface of iceberg multiple-times, which makes its blue color more apparent and deeper. But the observations of blue stripped icebergs casts doubts to such an explanation, as the differently colored layers are all exposed to the same pressure.

    The similarly blue water can be obtained with filtration of normal water through certain nanoporous materials, which promote ordering of water H-OH bonds within nanoclusters of water. Interestingly the distilled water lacks the blue tint, despite it’s at least as clear, as the water from icebergs. According to some researchers, the blue tint is typical for water with hydrogen bonds arranged precisely at the 108° angle. The boiling randomized the angles inside the closely packed water molecules, so that such a molecules get their order more difficultly. I presume, this is the physical basis of Mpemba effect and similar phenomena, which involve water treatment history. Compare also my comments here.

  • Gerrit

    ORNL – Onergy Reactions Nuclear Low

    almost, we are slowly getting there.

  • Eyedoc

    Paving the way toward LENR announcements

  • SimeonHein

    I saw Gerald Pollock give a presentation about this idea at the Society for Scientific Exploration meeting in San Francisco, June 2014. He showed us numerous examples of water acting in a fourth state, like a liquid crystal with long-range order. By way of synchronicity, it was at this same meeting that Dr. Vittorio Viollante of ENEA gave the keynote presentation in which he told us unequivocally that Cold Fusion was a real, sustainable reaction that had been reproduced by his organization.

  • GordonDocherty

    To quote:

    “The neutron scattering and computational chemistry experiments showed that, in the tunneling state, the water molecules are delocalized around a ring so the water molecule assumes an unusual double top-like shape.”
    So, more H-O-H than H2O (or, just perhaps, hydrogen and oxygen in a quasi-lattice with interstitial spaces configuration) – or, even more fundamental than that – quark soup – or even quark matter particles (like stable/cold kaons) as not only atoms but the nucleii themselves “smear out” to fit:

    If so, this also has implications regarding the Coloumb barrier, which is inevitably modelled as uniformly spherical in strength and shape.

    • Axil Axil

      Water rings. A single water molecule can be confined inside a hexagonally shaped channel of the gemstone beryl (left). The light-blue spheres show the positions of one hydrogen atom in a water molecule as it takes on six different rotational orientations simultaneously. Tunneling among these orientations means the hydrogen atom is not located at one position, but smeared out in a ring shape. The right panel has an expanded spatial scale and shows the calculated hydrogen charge density, going from blue (lowest) to yellow (highest).

      “it takes on six different rotational orientations simultaneously” means superposition of the hydrogen atom.

      • Gerald

        Axil, complete off topic idea, probably on a childisch logical science level. At a quantum level our normal laws of nature doesn’t seem to be followed. Like they exist in more two places at the same time. What if at the quatum level, time doesn’t exist and what we see is just an copy/inprint left. Like when we see a point spinning, if it goes fast we see a circle, our eyes just aren’t fast enough updating the image. In our universe the eyes is time then so we just notice effect from quantum mechanics on the mass around us. The mass around us is the inprint then left by the quantum world, there must be infinite inprints then. I would lose gravity in this picture, but my wife just asked me to fix a cabinet (this is a bad inprint 😉 ) and the idea became foggy and I lost what I was daydreaming. Do you know of any theory of the universe where time is doesn’t exist?

      • psi2u2

        Thank you for the exceptionally lucid explanation, Axil. How fascinating!

        • Zephir

          The tunneling of water clusters has many aspects similar with cold fusion:

          We can observe the splitting of water molecules, requiring activation
          energy of about 1,3 eV by radiowave frequency energy density range (13
          MHz) – i.e. 5.10E-8 eV). This is the same ratio of energy density, like
          inducing cold fusion requiring 10 MeV for activation by electrochemical
          potential 1 eV in palladium cell. Both these phenomena can have similar
          high-level mechanism in analogy of water clusters to presence of
          pycnodeuterium phase inside of free space in host octahedral palladium

          • psi2u2

            I don’t claim to understand all that, but thanks for it anyway. I will understand what I can and study up on the rest!

        • bkrharold

          There may be some parallel between water confined in beryl and hydrogen molecules confined in a metallic lattice

  • Argon

    Interesting news since ‘pure fact’ scientists should start to understand that lots of new discoveries remains unseen if everything needs to be first and foremost based currently (ap)proved laws of physics (ITER vs LENR research).

    I have to say that I don’t understand much ot this press release, and should study the papers, but my question to those who are able to better understand the paper:

    Would this wild story by @plazma_max have chance to have anything to do with water tunneling:

    Since this ‘delocalizing oxygen and hydrogen atoms’ and ‘separating potential walls’ in paper would open up many things to research further.