Extreme water structure

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


There is a huge interest in the properties of water under extreme conditions of temperature, pressure and environment. This interest ranges from the water vapour jets that apparently emanate from the surface of Europa and Encedalus, fuelling speculation for the existence of vast liquid oceans beneath the icy exterior of these moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Somewhat closer to Earth, ice is found in the polar regions of Mars, and there is growing evidence for flows of salty water during the Martian summer the salt allowing the water to stay liquid at the sub-zero temperatures that are found there. Equally, water at the bottom of our own Earth's oceans, is under pressures of up to ~1000 atmospheres, is mostly cold, being at or below 4oC, but can also be very hot near undersea vents, and is briny, so presenting severe challenges to life. Yet many living organisms have adapted to thrive under these conditions. Whereas pure water and ice, both crystalline and amorphous, under pressure and over a range of temperatures, have been explored extensively using neutron scattering techniques, much less is known about the combined effects of salt content, confinement, pressure and temperature.
This project will be based in Leeds and will exploit neutron total and small angle scattering techniques at the ISIS Facility, Rutherford Appleton Laboratories The student will make use of a computational modelling techniques known as structure elucidators which provide an ensemble of microscopic conformations compatible with the experimental data and provides access to pair-wise atomic interactions between all atoms in the system of interest. The student will also be trained in the preparation and characterisation of biomolecular solutions, making use of the extensive research facilities within the School of Physics and Astronomy and as appropriate the interdisciplinary Astbury Centre for Structural and Molecular Biology at Leeds. The project is highly interdisciplinary and innovative in nature


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Nasralla M (2022) A study of the interaction between TMAO and urea in water using NMR spectroscopy. in Physical chemistry chemical physics : PCCP

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/T517860/1 01/10/2020 30/09/2025
2435200 Studentship EP/T517860/1 01/10/2020 31/03/2024 Mazin Nasralla
Description Neutron beam-time at the ISIS neutron and muon source at Didcot was awarded for an experiment in March 2022 to study the solvation shell of a peptide in an aqueous solution of TMAO, Urea and water. Neutron beam time was also awarded for an experiment as this institution on a solution of aammonia-water that would mimic the surface conditions of an impact melt on the moon Titan.

We have published an article in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics regarding work on the urea-TMAO-water system that used NMR spectroscopy to study the hydrogen bond structure of this solution, and are now working on a follow-up to this article using the results of our neutron diffraction study. The neutron diffraction study shows that TMAO works to counteract urea denaturation of protein by depleting urea from the durface of protein.

We have yet to analyse the ammonia-water data.
Exploitation Route We have shown that TMAO works by depleting urea from the protein surface. The mechanism seems to involve hydrogen bonding in the bulk solution. This requires further exploration.

The ammonia-water results will be very interesting and have implications for habitability in the ocean worlds.
Sectors Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2022/cp/d2cp02475f