The memory of water regained?[*]
22 December 2017 (online)
Here we go again. Scientific logic tells us that the idea of water retaining the memory of substances once dissolved but diluted out of existence just should not happen. After the BBC Horizon programme first broadcast last November, one could be forgiven for not wishing to hear about the memory of water again. And we all know what happened to Jacques Benveniste for daring to espouse such a view. Yet compelling new evidence from Switzerland suggests the memory of water could be a real physical phenomenon after all.
Using a technique called thermoluminescence, Lausanne-based Professor Louis Rey has shown ultra-high dilutions (ie, no molecules of the original solute remaining) of lithium chloride or sodium chloride to be reproducibly different from pure water diluted with itself. If confirmed, not only will it be harder to dismiss the water memory idea, but it will lend credibility to homeopaths’ claims that our highly diluted remedies have specific effects and are not just placebos.
Thermoluminescence is used to study the structures of solids, particularly crystals and disordered glasses. First the material is cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen (77 K) and then bombarded with ionising radiation, eg X-rays or gamma rays. This excites negatively charged electrons into higher energy states and deposits them elsewhere in the crystal lattice, leaving behind positively charged atoms called ‘holes’.
Because of the low temperature, these electron–hole pairs are trapped until the solid is gradually warmed. Then, increasing vibrations of the atoms in the lattice allow the excited electrons and holes to migrate towards each other until they recombine, releasing their stored energy as a thermoluminescent glow. Plotting this thermoluminescence against temperature yields a spectrum characteristic of any particular material and useful for understanding the nature and origin of imperfections within solid lattices.
Applying this technique to frozen ‘heavy’ water (in which the isotope of hydrogen deuterium is substituted for ordinary hydrogen (i.e. D2O)) Rey observed a thermoluminescence spectrum with two distinct peaks. Rey, a specialist in freeze-drying technology, used D2O because the effects he observed are more pronounced than in ordinary water. He is convinced that this second peak is related to ice's network of hydrogen bonds which, in turn, results from the structure of the original liquid sample. When lithium chloride or sodium chloride was dissolved in D2O and the same thermoluminescence technique applied, the thermoluminescence spectra changed; the second peak was now considerably reduced in intensity. Rey concluded that these substances must have changed the solvent's hydrogen-bonded structure.
Rey knew that the ultra-highly diluted remedies used by homeopaths are thought to involve the solvent originally forming hydrogen-bonded structures around the atoms and molecules of a dissolved substance. When diluted and agitated many times, these structures somehow survive removal of the original substance. Rey wondered if this could lead to the same changes in hydrogen bonding he had observed from the spectra of his diluted solutions.
Starting with D2O solutions of lithium chloride or sodium chloride, and with the help of the homeopathic company, Boiron, he diluted and agitated them down to ‘concentrations’ of 10−30 g/cm3 ie, a potency of 15cH and way beyond the ‘Avogadro limit’ at which any ions of the original substances could remain. A sample of pure D2O was also potentised down to 15cH with itself. After freezing, the samples were irradiated with X-rays and then gradually warmed up. Sure enough, Rey noticed the ultra-highly diluted samples showed similar reduced thermoluminescence second peaks, the ex-lithium chloride sample more so than the ex-sodium chloride, while the peak for pure D2O diluted with itself was unaffected. So, Rey speculates, different substances are having different effects on water's hydrogen-bonded network, as homeopaths believe. In his paper, Rey claims his thermoluminescence results are reproducible, even when gamma rays from a nuclear reactor are used to produce the electron–hole pairs.[ 1 ] So will Rey's work now mean the memory of water is taken seriously?
* An article on the same subject by Dr. L. R. Milogram appeared in New Scientist (14th June 2003, vol. 178, no. 2399, pg. 22).
- 1 Rey L. Physica A 2003; 323: 67–74.
- 2 Martin Chaplin's website; http://www.sbu.ac.uk/water/.