To concentrate chemicals in solution, just add water:
November 9, 2001 2:19 AM   Subscribe

To concentrate chemicals in solution, just add water: 'a chance discovery so unexpected it defies belief and threatens to reignite debate about whether there is a scientific basis for thinking homeopathic medicines really work.'
posted by rory (18 comments total)
Weird. One imagines that the molecules form structures in the solution similar to superstrings. And hey, it's another buckyball connection!
posted by dhartung at 4:11 AM on November 9, 2001

Ok, that is kind of interesting. But from a layman's perspective, it makes sense... I have long wondered why so many chemical and mineral resources are concentrated on the earth. Maybe it is because when chemicals are eroded from the mountains and enter the sea, they begin to aggregate together. Eons later, we can mine them out of the dried up sea.
posted by Counselco at 4:14 AM on November 9, 2001

Unfortunately, it doesn't explain the massive amount of evidence that homeopathic cures operate no better than placebos.

Sorry, folks, this isn't anything new. This kind of explanation has been around before.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:45 AM on November 9, 2001

'Kind of' interesting? Sigh. I guess completely counter-intuitive scientific discoveries just don't cut it in this day and age. I wouldn't have said it makes sense from a layman's perspective myself.

Maybe ... when chemicals are eroded from the mountains and enter the sea, they begin to aggregate together. Eons later, we can mine them out of the dried up sea.

Um, maybe not. Whatever is happening at the molecular level doesn't necessarily effect the macro level. Otherwise every time you went for a swim you'd get hit by a passing gold brick.
posted by rory at 6:57 AM on November 9, 2001


posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:03 AM on November 9, 2001

Unfortunately, it doesn't explain the massive amount of evidence that homeopathic cures operate no better than placebos.

I'm a homeopathy skeptic myself, but the discovery is still interesting.

Sorry, folks, this isn't anything new.

And there I was, thinking that it was first reported in Chemical Communications on 15 October 2001...

This kind of explanation has been around before.

Sure. From homeopathists, for a start. But the article in question is about observed experimental results, not kite-flying. From the preprint itself:

It appears that there is an equilibrium in the solution between clusters and aggregates of clusters, which is dynamic and dependent on various factors such as concentration, solution history, time, temperature, etc. That the steady increase in cluster size was primarily a concentration-related phenomenon, not time-dependent, was ascertained when we measured the cluster size of these compounds in aqueous solutions over three
days. The increase in size with time was very small compared to the large and almost instantaneous increase in size on dilution.

Adding water causes 'almost instantaneous' aggregation of molecules. I find that fascinating, and I haven't touched a test-tube since I was 17. But I guess it's just me... sigh... back to front-page lurking.
posted by rory at 7:18 AM on November 9, 2001

Forgive them, Rory. They know not what they see. I guess the only way to wow the front page with a scientific headline is to provide a tangible basis for alchemy.
posted by ed at 7:41 AM on November 9, 2001

Gold bricks, indeed, Ed. :)
posted by rory at 7:46 AM on November 9, 2001

i thought it was neat, esp. the part about

Diluting a remedy may increase the size of the particles to the point when they become biologically active.

like there's some funky reverse second law going on, altho i'm not sure whether it's a closed system or not.
posted by kliuless at 7:55 AM on November 9, 2001

this is pretty amazing, too: a single molecule transistor

The solution is poured from a beaker onto gold electrodes, and the transistors form by themselves.

pocket blue genes for all!
posted by kliuless at 8:27 AM on November 9, 2001

So is there anyone here familiar with the claims of Jacques Benveniste? "Ghost effect" of absent molecules sounded pretty specious to me, but I presume that research that makes Nature checks out at least on some basic level.

This whole thing reminds me a bit of the excitement over the early "cold fusion" findings. It'll be interesting to see what happens when other researchers repeat these experiments. Part of me hopes that I won't have to admit to all of the homeopathy-boosters I know that they might have a point...I'd have a lot of crow to eat.
posted by BT at 8:35 AM on November 9, 2001

The article's from New Scientist, not Nature (and the original journal article is in Chemical Communications), and all that 'ghost effect' stuff is homeopathic weirdness thrown in by NS to stir the pot. But it does suggest that there's something to the idea that by diluting a solution you might encourage molecules to aggregate to the point where they become biologically active - i.e., larger aggregations may have a biological effect where smaller aggregations have none. Only problem might be that you have to drink a gallon of diluted cough syrup to kick a cold. :)

Another thought: if this happens with benign or beneficial chemicals, is it also happening with toxic ones? Are pollutants becoming more toxic as they hit the waterways?
posted by rory at 8:59 AM on November 9, 2001

rory, the reference to Nature was from this passage in the New Scientist article:

It also echoes the controversial claims of French immunologist Jacques Benveniste. In 1988, Benveniste claimed in a Nature paper that a solution that had once contained antibodies still activated human white blood cells. Benveniste claimed the solution still worked because it contained ghostly "imprints" in the water structure where the antibodies had been.

Hence my question.
posted by BT at 9:04 AM on November 9, 2001

funny: the first thing I thought of is how this is a wonderful analogy for immigration and group dynamics in general. When you're thrown into a vast pool where you're the extreme minority, you're first instinct is to seek out and cling to those similar to you.
posted by billder at 9:51 AM on November 9, 2001

I can't figure out why a solution with a few large aggregates in solution would be more biologically reactive than one with more, smaller aggregates, or with the dissolved substances evenly spread. Every chemical reaction I've heard of with a solid involved was sped up by smaller particle size: a lot of small particles will have more surface area for the reaction to take place on than a few big particles. It's like the difference between lighting two pounds of fine sawdust on fire and lighting a two-pound block of wood on fire--the sawdust lights quicker and burns faster.

It seems to me that the dissolved substances were just "trying" to precipitate from the solution, like sugar collecting in the bottom of a bottle of sweet tea, except that the solutions were too dilute for them to solidify completely.
posted by crake at 10:13 AM on November 9, 2001

billder, that's cool. an otherwise inanimate process that displays behaviour.

this nature article may or may not be related :)

You would not expect water to enter a hydrophobic carbon nanotube. But computer simulations show that it can, and studying the process should provide clues about the behaviour of biological pores.

it seems water has weird properties at the nanoscale when interacting with buckyballs and the like.
posted by kliuless at 10:20 AM on November 9, 2001

Before we get all excited about this, lets see if it's a teensy bit more reproducable than say, cold fusion.
posted by ilsa at 4:21 PM on November 9, 2001

Interesting stuff. But it has little to nothing to do with homeopathy.

A couple of points regarding homeopathy:

Benveniste himself is quoted as saying that this isn`t the effect he observed, so it`s not likely that they`Re proving homeopathy.

There is also no evidence that increased cluster size increases biological activity.

And finally, homeopathy uses dillutions that pretty much remove any solute from a random sample of liquid (something like 30000 times). This article discusses behavior of a solution that contains the solute, not one that has been diluted to be just water and alcohol.

Also, if this were really the incredibly groundbreaking stuff that solid reproducible evidednce of the efficacy of homeopathy would surely be, it would have been in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
posted by chiheisen at 6:03 PM on November 11, 2001

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