The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

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home > Transactions > Volume 26 - 2020 > DŴR A STRWYTHURAU BYWYD


Water must be one of the most familiar of chemicals and its structure, H2O, one of the few that are widely recognized. Yet, to the physical chemist it is one of the most remarkable and enigmatic. This is partly due to its simple structure, allowing meaningful discussion of features inaccessible in anything larger. Its key role in the provision of health, food, and energy to the human population makes it of prime political interest. This is nowhere more evident than in its influence on the current Welsh political landscape. The author describes two aspects of the physical chemistry of water that have occupied his research interests. The first involves the high pressure macroscopic behaviour of tissues and organs based on the phenomenon of osmosis. At the dawn of life, some four billion years ago, this was one of the first challenges cellular life had to overcome. Today, the solutions found to those challenges are not only the basis of growth, support, and movement but also of bioenergetics and of the workings of our nervous system and brain. The second aspect concerns the influence of the quantum world on the shape of the molecule and its subtle interactions with others – especially other water molecules. Herein lies the stability of the quintessential nano-structures of all cells – cell membranes, proteins, and DNA. Other examples discussed range from night-storage heaters on Mount Kenya to the freezing point of ice-cream, from the first anti-GM protests to the decision of where to search for life on neighbouring planets and moons.


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