It’s a basic lesson everyone is taught in science, more out of safety than anything else, that water is a conductor of electricity - that’s why water Pokemon are weak to electric-types. But seriously, despite the phenomenon being relatively simple, no one’s been able to explain how water molecules are able to transfer extra protons from one to another during conductivity. That is, until now.


A team of researchers led by Yale University chemistry professor Mark Johnson was able to take, for the first time, spectroscopic snapshots of this electron transference occurring in water molecules. The phenomenon itself, called the Grotthuss mechanism, had baffled scientists for more than 200 years now. “This fundamental process in chemistry and biology has eluded a firm explanation,” said researcher Anne McCoy of the University of Washington.


Years of studying the chemistry of water at the molecular level gave Johnson’s team an edge. Particularly, they were able to freeze the chemical process such that the molecules were captured in their transient states, revealing structural changes due to the Grotthuss mechanism. To sharpen the images, they only worked with a few “heavy water” molecules and froze these at absolute zero.


Credits: Matt K. Petersen