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In Praise Of Water Research

March 8, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 10

I was dismayed at the negative tone of the article on Gerald H. Pollack's work on the structure of water (C&EN, Dec. 14, 2009, page 32). One would think that a $3.8 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to a chemist would be celebrated by chemists as a long-overdue recognition that all disciplines—not just biochemistry—can contribute to health.

I have argued recently that logic would demand that NIH have an entire institute dedicated to the study of water. Instead, it doesn't have even one expert scientist in the field, and it cannot find a single study section to review a proposal on water (data provided for interested parties). Yet we spend hundreds of millions of dollars to look for water on Mars to argue that there may be life on Mars, because water is essential to life! But not to NIH.

Pollack's work is superb, careful, and thorough, and his data are unchallengeable. His presentation at the October 2009 Gordon Conference in Vermont, before his real worldwide peers, was unchallenged and celebrated. Yet C&EN sought comments from casual nonpeers who seemed to question and even belittle his remarkable discoveries. No one seemed to check with Martin Chaplin (with his myriad oligomers of H2O), inarguably the best informed chemist in the water business, and no one checked with Gene Stanley, the leader in the physics of water (with his 64 transitions in H2O).

By coincidence and as a materials chemistry representative, I happened to present a paper in Vermont directly supporting Pollack's data on Nafion's stunning epitaxial structuring of water. We did precisely the spectroscopy one of your commentators asked for, confocal Raman with a resolution of a few nanometers, studying in detail the epitaxial effects on water of the highest bond-strength materials. The depth of the most dramatic changes induced in pure waters, like reducing the main stretching bonds nearly to zero, ranged some hundreds of nanometers for quartz and ruby to nearly millimeters in diamond, and we found the same amazing effects with Nafion.

C&EN should celebrate and applaud NIH's decision on Pollack's work. It could encourage other chemists and materials chemists to bring their innovations to bear in new areas related to health. Lip service to "transformative" science by our agencies is not enough to save U.S. leadership

Rustum Roy
State College, Pa.



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