posted on Sep, 15 2008 @ 08:22 AM
5. Does Water Have Memory?
In the alternative medicine of homeopathy, a dilute solution of a compound can is purported to have healing effects, even if the dilution factor is so
large that statistically there isn't a single molecule of anything in it except for water. Homeopathy proponents explain this paradox with a concept
called "water memory" where water molecules "remember" what particles were once dissolved in it.
This made no sense to Madeleine Ennis, a pharmacologist and professor at Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Ennis, who also happened to
be a vocal critic of homeopathy, devised an experiment to disprove "water memory" once and for all - but discovered that her result was the exact
In her most recent paper, Ennis describes how her team looked at the effects of ultra-dilute solutions of histamine on human white blood cells
involved in inflammation. These "basophils" release histamine when the cells are under attack. Once released, the histamine stops them releasing any
more. The study, replicated in four different labs, found that homeopathic solutions - so dilute that they probably didn’t contain a single
histamine molecule - worked just like histamine. Ennis might not be happy with the homeopaths’ claims, but she admits that an effect cannot be ruled
So how could it happen? Homeopaths prepare their remedies by dissolving things like charcoal, deadly nightshade or spider venom in ethanol, and then
diluting this "mother tincture" in water again and again. No matter what the level of dilution, homeopaths claim, the original remedy leaves some
kind of imprint on the water molecules. Thus, however dilute the solution becomes, it is still imbued with the properties of the remedy.
You can understand why Ennis remains skeptical. And it remains true that no homeopathic remedy has ever been shown to work in a large randomised
placebo-controlled clinical trial. But the Belfast study (Inflammation Research, vol 53, p 181) suggests that something is going on. "We are," Ennis
says in her paper, "unable to explain our findings and are reporting them to encourage others to investigate this phenomenon." If the results turn
out to be real, she says, the implications are profound: we may have to rewrite physics and chemistry. (Source)
So far, other scientists failed to reproduce Ennis' experimental findings (throughout, Ennis herself was skeptical of the result's interpretation
that water has a "memory" but maintained that the phenomenon she saw was real).
See also Jacques Benveniste's Nature controversy | Louise Rey's thermoluminescence study
More recently, a team of scientists at the University of Toronto, Canada, and Max Born Institute in Germany, studying water dynamics using fancy
multi-dimensional nonlinear infrared spectroscopy did find that water have a memory of sorts - in form of hydrogen bond network amongst water
molecules. Problem for homeopathy was, this effect lasted only 50 femtoseconds (5 x 10-14 seconds)!
Bonus: Ice Spikes
Ice spikes are, well, spikes that grow out of ice cube trays. They look like stalagmites found in caves, and you can make 'em yourself using
distilled water. Kenneth G. Libbrecht of SnowCrystals explains:
How do Ice Spikes Form?
Ice spikes grow as the water in an ice cube tray turns to ice. The water first freezes on the top surface, around the edges of what will become the
ice cube. The ice slowly freezes in from the edges, until just a small hole is left unfrozen in the surface. At the same time, while the surface is
freezing, more ice starts to form around the sides of the cube.
Since ice expands as it freezes, the ice freezing below the surface starts to push water up through the hole in the surface ice (see diagram). If the
conditions are just right, then water will be forced out of the hole in the ice and it will freeze into an ice spike, a bit like lava pouring out of a
hole in the ground to makes a volcano. But water does not flow down the sides of a thin spike, so in that way it is different from a volcano. Rather,
the water freezes around the rim of the tube, and thus adds to its length. The spike can continue growing taller until all the water freezes, cutting
off the supply, or until the tube freezes shut. The tallest spike we've seen growing in an ordinary ice cube tray was 56mm (2.2in) long. (Source)
Bonus 2: Make Instant Snow with Boiling Water
What do you get when you throw boiling water to the air in subzero weather? Instant snow. Interestingly, it only works with boiling hot water:
These aren't the only things weird about water. We didn't talk about how water density changes with temperature (ice, for instance, is less dense
than water so it floats - a key property of water that made life possible in the oceans and lakes). Nor did we talk about the weirdly strong surface
tension of water, ordered clustering of liquid water, and so on. If you are interested, check out the Anomalous Properties of Water article by Martin
Everything you wanted to know about water, but never thought to ask.