Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards
Organisation: University College London
Dates: Apr 2012-Mar 2017
Summary: Water is essential for life. It is the one chemical that everyone can relate to, yet many are unaware of its mysterious properties. Some of these unusual properties have, however, fascinated scientists throughout the ages. Robert Boyle, for example, tried to understand why ice floats on water, and Michael Faraday why the surface of ice is slippery. Just like these greats I am fascinated by water and find the “field” of water research an incredibly exciting one. Three hundred and fifty years after Boyle, and two hundred years after Faraday the questions they were trying to answer remain fascinating. However, it turns out that some of them are now also directly relevant to important global challenges such as water scarcity, shortages in energy, and climate change. It is now an exciting time for water research since it is becoming possible to use the laws of quantum mechanics developed by Schrödinger, Einstein, and others to shed light on the mysteries of water. Increased computer power and fancy computer programmes for solving quantum mechanical equations mean that accurate predictions about the properties of water on the nanoscale are now within reach. In my project I am trying to make accurate predictions that enable me to explore the molecular level mechanisms behind the questions pondered by Boyle and Faraday and many others since. I am hoping that our simulations will, for example, reveal how individual water molecules arrange in to tiny ice particles at the surfaces of materials, how water flows between membranes, or how hydrogens jump from one water to the next when up against a metal surface. Understanding how these processes work is the first step in being able to control them, so down the line this project may aid the development of new materials for making it rain, or new coatings for aircraft to prevent them getting covered in ice, or a new filter for purifying salty water, or perhaps better tasting ice-cream!