World’s fastest water heater

Scientists explore exotic state of liquid with X-ray laser

Scientists have used a powerful X-ray laser to heat water from room temperature to 100,000 degrees Celsius in less than a tenth of a picosecond (millionth of a millionth of a second). The experimental set-up, that can be seen as the world’s fastest water heater, produced an exotic state of water, from which researchers hope to learn more about the peculiar characteristics of Earth’s most important liquid. The observations also have practical use for the probing biological and many other samples with X-ray lasers. The team of Carl Caleman from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) at DESY and Uppsala University (Sweden) reports its findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers used the X-ray free-electron laser Linac Coherent Light Source LCLS at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the U.S. to shoot extremely intense and ultra-short flashes of X-rays at a jet of water. “It is certainly not the usual way to boil your water,” said Caleman. “Normally, when you heat water, the molecules will just be shaken stronger and stronger.” On the molecular level, heat is motion – the hotter, the faster the motion of the molecules. This can be achieved, for example, via heat transfer from a stove, or more directly with microwaves that make the water molecules swing back and forth ever faster in step with the electromagnetic field.

> Read more on on the DESY website and on the LCLS website

Image: After about 70 femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second) most water molecules have already split into hydrogen (white) and oxygen (red).
Credit: Carl Caleman, DESY/Uppsala University