Scientists Create the World’s Fastest Water Heater: 100,000 °C in A Tenth of a Picosecond

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In a quest to find out more about water, scientists have used a powerful X-ray laser to heat room temperature water. It reached 100,000 degrees in 0.000 000 000 000 075 seconds, which is less than the millionth of a millionth of a second.

The team of the researchers has reported their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Not A Usual Way to Boil Water

Carl Caleman led a team of researchers from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) at DESY and Uppsala University (Sweden). They used a laser called Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, U.S. Caleman explains:

“It is not the usual way to boil your water. Normally, when you heat water, the molecules will just be shaken stronger and stronger.”

But Caleman and his team have heated the water differently and it showed a distinctive result than regularly boiling water:

“The energetic X-rays punch electrons out of the water molecules, thereby destroying the balance of electric charges. So, suddenly the atoms feel a strong repulsive force and start to move violently.”

With this much heat, the water turned into plasma, explains co-author Olof Jönsson from Uppsala University:

“But while the water transforms from liquid to plasma, it still remains at the density of liquid water, as the atoms didn’t have time to move significantly yet.”

An Exotic Sample of Water

What’s most interesting is that the state of the water after being hit with the laser is ‘exotic’, nothing we naturally have on Earth, added Jönsson:

“It has similar characteristics as some plasmas in the sun and the gas giant Jupiter, but has a lower density. Meanwhile, it is hotter than Earth’s core.”

After the experiment, scientists have measured and studied the state of water to learn more about its properties. Water has many anomalies – like density, heat capacity and thermal conductivity, which scientists want to study in the future:

“Water really is an odd liquid, and if it weren’t for its peculiar characteristics, many things on Earth wouldn’t be as they are, particularly life.”

X-Ray Laser Imaging Techniques

Co-author of the study, Kenneth Beyerlein (CFEL) says that any experiment that uses X-ray lasers will destroy a sample used in tests:

“In fact, any sample that you put into the X-ray beam will be destroyed in the way that we observed. If you analyse anything that is not a crystal, you have to consider this.” At 25 femtoseconds after the X-ray pulse hit the sample of water, it underwent no structural changes. Only at 75 femtoseconds, the water showed changes in its structure.

Co-author Nicusor Timneanu (Uppsala University), is one of the scientists that developed the theoretical model they used in the study. He explains that:

“The study gives us a better understanding of what we do to different samples. Its observations are also important to consider for the development of techniques to image single molecules or other tiny particles with X-ray lasers.”

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere