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Effect of high salt concentrations on water structure


THE characteristic tetrahedral structure of water is known to be disrupted by changes in pressure and temperature1–3. It has been suggested that ions in solution may have a similar perturbing effect4,5. Here we use neutron diffraction to compare the effects of applied pressure and high salt concentrations on the hydrogen-bonded network of water. We find that the ions induce a change in structure equivalent to the application of high pressures, and that the size of the effect is ion-specific. Ionic concentrations of a few moles per litre have equivalent pressures that can exceed a thousand atmospheres. We propose that these changes may be understood in terms of the partial molar volume of the ions, relative to those of water molecules. The equivalent induced pressure of a particular ion species is correlated with its efficacy in precipitating, or salting-out, proteins from solution6.

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Leberman, R., Soper, A. Effect of high salt concentrations on water structure. Nature 378, 364–366 (1995).

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