Water – the Great Mystery

Kurt Wuthrich, PhD (La Jolla, CA and Zurich, Switzerland). Scripps Research Institute, co-winner of 2002 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. “The Amazing Role of Water in Chemistry”

Dr. Wuthrich, co-winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, received his PhD from UC Berkeley in 1965 and taught in Switzerland from 1969 to 2000. Since then, he has been dividing his time between Switzerland and the Scripps Institute in LaJolla, CA. He is an avid fisherman and a devotee of Zane Gray.

His Nobel prize winning research involves a method of observing the behavior of large organic molecules (which he calls the “molecules of life”), called “Nuclear Magnetic Resonance” or NMR spectroscopy. Basically, the molecules are suspended in water and the system enables researchers to study the structure of certain types of large molecules, and changes they undergo in response to stimuli.

The technique is similar to MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans and one thing you can determine is if the molecules are dehydrated and whether or not they are acting normally. Behavior in water is important because the brain is 80% water and most other human tissues are 65% to 70% water. MRI is expensive but far less so than exploratory surgery.

In response to Sharon’s questions about dehydration, Dr. Wuthrich noted that there are several tests that can determine if a child is dehydrated. He acknowledged that pediatric dehydration is a major global health problem.

Dr. Wuthrich is extremely interested in water, especially as a resident of Southern California, where water is scarce and highly politicized. Water (and oxygen) are the most crucial elements for life and without water, there is no life.

Sharon asked if drinking water needed to be free, rather than combined with coffee, soda or juice. Dr. Wuthrich said he thought not, since those kinds of drinks are 99% water and even pure water instantly mixes with your stomach contents. However, coffee can be dehydrating and juices and soda many contain unhealthy amounts of sugar.

Dr. Wuthrich had some interesting commentary on his Nobel Prize. He was the lead researcher in a team of 20 scientists working on the project. It took 15 years to develop NMI and 18 more years to win the Prize. Meanwhile, he wrote a book on the benefits on NMI. The system has yielded many advances in the study of mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease in deer.

There was some discussion about global warming. Dr. Wuthrich noted that as a child, he used to frequently go skiing in Interlochen, Switzerland. These days, many Interlochen ski areas are at elevations that no longer receive much snow.


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