Why do sprained ankles swell within seconds? Why do your joints operate without squeaking? Can drinking water supply energy? Is water merely another kind of food? How is water relevant to health? Answering these and related questions requires an understanding of the chemistry of water. Many presume that by now every aspect of water must have been discovered and thoroughly explicated, given its simplicity and pervasiveness throughout nature. In fact, however, precious little has been understood about how water molecules organize themselves—until recently.
Students learn that water has three phases: solid, liquid, and vapor. But there is something more: in our laboratory at the University of Washington we have uncovered a fourth phase. This phase occurs next to water-loving (hydrophilic) surfaces. It is surprisingly extensive, projecting out from surfaces by up to millions of molecular layers. And it exists almost everywhere throughout nature, including in your body. In fact, it is this phase of water that lls your cells.