Scientists reveal a new model for the effects of radiation on aquatic systems

Scientists reveal a new model for the effects of radiation on aquatic systems

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Using the LCLS X-ray laser in California, the experiment team, led by Argonne scientist Linda Young, could image the structures of water molecules surrounding the electron bubbles. The theory team in Hamburg, led by CFEL senior scientist Ludger Inhester, was able to model how the bubble itself behaved using data from the experiment team. Credit: DESY/ Arturo Sopena Moros

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Using the LCLS X-ray laser in California, the experiment team, led by Argonne scientist Linda Young, could image the structures of the water molecules surrounding the electron bubbles. The theory team in Hamburg, led by CFEL senior scientist Ludger Inhester, was able to model how the bubble itself behaved using data from the experiment team. Credit: DESY/ Arturo Sopena Moros

What happens when radiation hits water? This is a question that has implications every time you get an X-ray at the doctor’s office, since you are mostly made of water. A team of theoretical physicists at DESY has been working on data obtained by colleagues from Argonne National Laboratory in the US at the LCLS X-ray laser in California to get a better answer to this question.

What they found may resolve a controversy in physics about the presence of free electrons in water and how they behave on very short time scales: the electrons, unbound to atoms, become sequestered in bubbles in structures similar to the cage between individual water molecules. These findings are reported in Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Free electrons are electrons that are not attached to atoms. In water that comes into contact with radiation, free electrons are released from the water molecules as they become ionized due to the radiation. How electrons flow between water molecules in this situation has been a topic of discussion for a long time.

In their work at LCLS at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the experimental team, led by Argonne scientist Linda Young, saw strange signatures associated with water molecules excited by lasers and imaged by the X-ray laser. They found structures between molecules using X-ray absorption spectroscopy. To gain a better understanding of the meaning of these results, the experiment team turned to theoretical physicists in Hamburg.

A team led by DESY scientist Ludger Inhester of the Center for Free Electron Laser Science examined the data and began making models from the data in coordination with the experimental team. Together their findings show that free electrons in water form bubble structures that are then trapped by water molecules, similar to how chemicals dissolve in water at the molecular level. In particular, the DESY team managed to show the process behind this solvation of electrons in water and its parameters.

“It turns out that the process of dissolution and thus the formation of cage structures is extremely sensitive to temperature changes in water,” says Arturo Sopena, first author of the study.

New insights into the solvation process show that the electron, which can initially be found in a wide area between water molecules, binds to specific patterns of hydrogen bonding that occur in molecular liquid water and then “digs in” deeper. in a very narrow area. area within the water structure.

This “digging” and associated reorientation of neighboring water molecules occurs extremely quickly and is completed within 100 femtoseconds, where a femtosecond is one quarter-millionth of a second. The bubble, which is about 50 billionths of a meter across, breaks apart in a few picoseconds, or one trillionth of a second.

“How does water react when exposed to radiation? That’s a vital question,” says Inhester. “These are the first steps of the radiation-driven chemical reaction that also determine the chemistry of the following radiation, which also applies to biological material.”

The new work was also carried out as part of the Cluster of Excellence CUI: Advanced Imaging of Matter at Universit├Ąt Hamburg. The new findings provide further insight into the behavior of radiation damage caused by ionizing radiation in water. Such water-related research will be further intensified at the emerging Center for Molecular Water Science, which is being established in international collaboration on the DESY campus.

More information:
Arturo Sopena Moros et al, Tracking Cavity Formation in Solvation Electrons: Insights from X-ray Spectroscopy and Theory, Journal of the American Chemical Society (2024). DOI: 10.1021/jacs.3c11857

Magazine Information:
Journal of the American Chemical Society

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