Water is strange and yet very important. In fact, it is one of the most unusual molecules on earth, it boils at a temperature it shouldn't, and it expands and float when it is in a solid state. A new research shows that when water comes into contact with the surface of an electrode, not all of its molecules react in the same way, which could dramatically affect the ability of various substances to dissolve in water when subjected to an electric field. This in turn determines how a chemical reaction would occur. This new disclosure could have a significant impact on all water-related processes, from water purification to drug manufacturing.
It is fitting that this pioneering work emerged from interdisciplinary research between a chemist and an electrical engineer. After all, chemistry is basically a study of electrons, and chemical reactions make the materials on which our world is built. This groundbreaking research was a result of joint efforts of Stephen Cronin, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and Alexander Benderskii, Associate Professor of Chemistry at the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at USC Dornsife. Every researcher has made an important contribution to the work, in this case a groundbreaking electrode by the engineer Cronin and an advanced laser spectroscopy technique by the chemist Benderskii. Ultimately, it was the combination of these two designs that led to the observed breakthrough.
First, Cronin designed a unique single-layer graphene electrode (only 0.355 nm thick). The construction of graphene electrodes themselves is a very complex process. In fact, the electrode that is needed for this particular research is one that research groups around the world have tried in the past and failed. “Alex and I struggled with it for a while and had to change our design many times. It is gratifying and exciting to finally see the results of our work” Cronin said. As soon as the electrode is placed in a water cell and a current begins to flow, Benderskii technique comes into play, which uses a special laser spectroscopy method that only a few other research groups have been able to reproduce. “Under the conditions of our experiments, we were able to see how molecules interacted with the field in a way that no one had previously understood,” Benderskii said.