Radiation and water. You might think there is little connection between the two, but the truth is that when radiation hits water, it gives rise to an intriguing phenomenon that has puzzled scientists for years. In an attempt to shed light on this enigma, a team of theoretical physicists at DESY, working in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory in the US, conducted a groundbreaking study using the LCLS X-ray laser in California. Their findings challenge the existing understanding of free electrons in water and their behavior at incredibly short time scales. In this article, we will explore the fascinating discoveries made by this team and delve into the implications of their research on radiation chemistry and biological materials.

The Presence of Free Electrons in Water

Free electrons, those that are not bound to atoms, have long been a subject of investigation in relation to water. When water comes into contact with radiation, the water molecules ionize, giving rise to free electrons. However, the flow of these electrons between water molecules and their behavior on the atomic level have remained a topic of debate and speculation.

To investigate the behavior of free electrons in water, the experimental team from Argonne National Laboratory conducted experiments at the LCLS X-ray laser, led by scientist Linda Young. By using X-ray absorption spectroscopy, they were able to observe odd signatures associated with the excitations of water molecules by lasers. The team discovered structures within the water molecules, which paved the way for a deeper understanding of the behavior of free electrons in water.

In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the experimental results, the team turned to theoretical physicists from DESY, specifically Ludger Inhester from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science. Collaborating closely with the experimental team, the theoretical physicists utilized the data to construct models that could explain the observations. Together, their findings revolutionized the understanding of the solvation process of free electrons in water.

The joint efforts of the experimental and theoretical teams revealed that free electrons in water form bubble structures that are subsequently enclosed within cage-like formations of water molecules. This can be likened to the way chemicals are solvated in water at a molecular level. The DESY team managed to unravel the intricate process behind the solvation of electrons in water and determine the parameters that govern this phenomenon.

Interestingly, the dissolution process and the subsequent formation of these cage structures were found to be highly sensitive to temperature changes in the water. Arturo Sopena, the first author of the study, emphasized that the electron, initially distributed over a wide area among water molecules, eventually becomes bound to specific hydrogen bonding patterns within the liquid water. This process occurs rapidly, within 100 femtoseconds, causing a reorientation of the neighboring water molecules. The bubble, measuring about 50 billionths of a meter in width, dissociates within several picoseconds.

The formation and subsequent dissociation of these bubble structures have significant implications in the broader field of radiation chemistry and its effects on biological materials. According to Inhester, these early chemical reaction steps, driven by radiation, set the stage for the subsequent radiation chemistry that takes place in biological matter. Understanding these intricate processes is crucial for comprehending the impact of radiation on biological systems.

The new findings from this study offer valuable insights into the behavior of ionizing radiation damage in water. This research paves the way for further investigations in water-related fields, which will be intensified at the emerging Center for Molecular Water Science on the DESY campus. The establishment of this center signifies the recognition of water as a vital subject of study in diverse scientific domains.

The study conducted by physicists at DESY, in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, has unveiled new secrets about the behavior of radiation in water. Through a combination of experimental and theoretical efforts, the team discovered the formation of bubble structures that confine free electrons within a cage of water molecules. This remarkable insight into the solvation process sheds light on the behavior of radiation damage and sets the foundation for further exploration of radiation chemistry and its effects on biological materials. With the establishment of the Center for Molecular Water Science, interdisciplinary research in water-related fields promises a wealth of future discoveries.


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