This might be the best online review of the historical episode I've seen of polywater. I have to nevertheless take issue with the lesson we are supposed to have learned from this story. After all, there exists an ongoing peer-reviewed line of investigation by Gerald Pollack at the University of Washington which we'd all be very wise to learn about and pay some attention to. Gerald's research adds a new and unexpected twist to this old debate, insofar as he's able to conclusively demonstrate that water's properties change in proximity to certain types of (aka hydrophilic, or "water-loving") surfaces. Dr. Pollack has demonstrated this in enough ways by now that were people actually paying close attention, there wouldn't be any actual controversy here …
The impact of surfaces on the contiguous aqueous phase is generally thought to extend no more than a few water-molecule layers. We find, however, that colloidal and molecular solutes are profoundly excluded from the vicinity of hydrophilic surfaces, to distances up to several hundred micrometers. Such large zones of exclusion have been observed next to many different hydrophilic surfaces, and many diverse solutes are excluded. Hence, the exclusion phenomenon appears to be quite general.
To test whether the physical properties of the exclusion zone differ from those of bulk water, several methods have been applied so far. NMR, infrared, and birefringence imaging, as well as measurements of electrical potential, viscosity, and UV-VIS and infrared-absorption spectra, collectively reveal that the solute-free zone is a physically distinct, more ordered phase of water. It is much like a liquid crystal. It can co-exist essentially indefinitely with the contiguous solute-containing phase. Indeed, this unexpectedly extensive zone may be a candidate for the long-postulated “fourth phase” of water considered by earlier scientists.
The energy responsible for building this charged, low entropy zone comes from light. We found that incident radiant energy including UV, visible, and near-infrared wavelengths induce exclusion-zone growth in a spectrally sensitive manner. IR is particularly effective. Five-minute exposure to radiation at 3.1 µm (corresponding to OH stretch) causes exclusion-zone-width increase up to three times. Apparently, incident photons cause some change in bulk water that predisposes constituent molecules to reorganize and build the charged, ordered exclusion zone. How this occurs is under study.
Photons from ordinary sunlight, then, may have an unexpectedly powerful effect that goes beyond mere heating. It may be that solar energy builds order and separates charge between the near-surface exclusion zone and the bulk water beyond — the separation effectively creating a battery. This light-induced charge separation resembles the first steps of photosynthesis. Indeed, this light-induced action would seem relevant not only for photosynthetic processes, but also for all realms of nature involving water and interfaces.
To make his point, Gerald demonstrates that it is possible to actually extract electricity from the placement of two electrodes into the same glass of water, so long as one of the electrodes is placed within the water's bulk, and the other is placed within this "exclusion zone" near the hydrophilic surface. The electrons come from light which is cast upon the water.
We'd be very, very wise to pay close attention to how this debate unfolds, for it would seem to introduce a new unexpected direction for climate science. After all, it would plainly appear to support the notion that we should pay more heed to the inference of electric joule heating in the Earth's heating -- a phenomenon which is not currently modeled in the dominant climate models, and which we've yet to accurately even measure with any instrumentation.
The debate is also incredibly relevant to discussions about the origins of life and the operation of the cell, as evidenced by the very understandable presentation Gerald delivers in his book, Cells, Gels and the Engines of Life. It should be easy to see that if water can exist in two separate states under the same temperature and pressure conditions that the phase transition which connects them can be used like a transistor to solve all sorts of problems which living organisms face. Gerald proposes in his book that this idea could be used to explain many important longstanding debates in biology, and even cast light upon what it means to be "alive".
It's important to note that Gerald's theories would appear to upend many established theories in biology, and that reception in that community has accordingly been muted. Given the empirical nature of his research, we should expect more of a discussion of the implications of his findings, and we should not permit the polywater debacle to color these new unexpected developments.