The triple state of water

There are some things in life that are just facts. Having these facts can give us comfort in times of uncertainty. You may not know what your next job will be or if you will ever find the love of your life but you can count on the fact that water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius and boils at 100 degrees Celsius. Except, a new study has shown that maybe you can’t.

The fact that water freezes and boils at a temperature that is separated by 100 degrees, means that water could never both freeze and boil at the same time, in theory. However, scientists have now conducted an experiment that resulted in just that.

Scientists placed a small amount of water in a container in a lab. From there they sucked all of the air out of the container with just the water remaining. This changed the level of pressure being exerted on the water. Through lots of adjusting and testing the team was able to find a balance of temperature and pressure that is close to something called ‘the triple point of water’. This triple point is the state at which the three states of water (gas, liquid, solid) exist in perfect equilibrium.

This state has now been called cyclohexane and you can watch a video on youtube of water both freezing and boiling at the same time. A closer look at the video reveals that it is not a true state of equilibrium but it is pretty close. Instead what we are seeing is the fluid change states close to the triple point but at any one moment, it is never all three.

Whether it is in equilibrium or close to equilibrium, the video is amazing. It manages to turn some of the things we know as fact on their head. If the boiling point of water is no longer real, what else should we start to question?