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Double hydrogen bond rearrangement identified in water cluster

Concerted rotation of water molecules reorganizes hydrogen bond network

by Jyllian Kemsley
March 28, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 13

Water’s hydrogen bond network plays a critical role in many processes, including ion dissolution, polar reagent chemistry, and protein folding. Understanding how that network fluctuates is necessary for understanding how water-influenced processes work. Previous research has shown that frozen water molecules can rearrange by rotating without breaking any hydrogen bonds or by bifurcating, in which a water molecule rotates such that a hydrogen bond to one of its hydrogens is replaced by a hydrogen bond to the other. A pair of water molecules in a cluster may also break and form two new hydrogen bonds through a tunneling mechanism in which the two molecules simultaneously rotate, according to new work by a team led by Jeremy O. Richardson of Durham University, Brooks H. Pate of the University of Virginia, and Stuart C. Althorpe and David J. Wales of the University of Cambridge (Science 2016, DOI: 10.1126/science.aae0012). The scientists studied the tunneling rearrangement in an (H2O)6 prism by using microwave spectroscopy and quantum mechanical modeling. Water in cellular or other confined environments may rearrange similarly.

Structures showing which bonds are broken and formed in a cluster of six water molecules.
Credit: Adapted from Science
In an (H2O)6 cluster, molecules simultaneously rotate to break and make hydrogen bonds.


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