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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline

« The Good New Days | Main | Stream of Consciousness »

February 2, 2006

Nanotech Wonder Water?

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Posted by Derek

Genetic Engineering News is sort of an odd publication. Primarily a vehicle for big, glossy color ads, it publishes some articles of its own: guest editorials, roundups of news from conferences and trade shows, that sort of thing. And it also publishes plenty of things that are (that have to be) slightly rewritten press releases - the sort of articles that start off:

"InterCap Corp. and SynaDynaGen say that their research collaboration on biosecurity proteomics through RNA interference and four-dimensional mass spectrometry, now with the great taste of fish, is yielding results that will make customers roll over on their backs and pant. Speaking at the Weaseltech Investor's Conference, company spokescreatures vowed to. . ."

One of these in the December issue, though, is weird enough that you can hear the editorial staff wrestling with their better selves. Phrases like "The company claims. . ." and "Company spokesmen maintain. . ." keep running through the whole article. It's titled "Water-Based Nanotech for the Life Sciences", and profiles a small Israeli company called (oddly) DoCoop. What DoCoop is selling is water.

But not just any water. . .Neowater! (Trademarked, natch). This is "a stable system of highly hydrated, inert nanoparticles", which supposedly have thousands of ordered hydration shells around them. This, the company says, modifies the bulk properties of the water. And what does that buy you?

Well, according to the company (there, I'm doing it, too), it will do pretty much everything except change the cat's litter box for you. It makes reactions run faster, at lower concentrations. It improves all biochemical assays and molecular biology techniques - PCR, RNA interference, ELISAs, you name it. Brief mentions are made of delivering molecules directly into cells with the stuff. It has applications in diagnostic kits, in drug delivery, in protein purification, and Cthulu only knows what else.

Some of these claims would seem to directly clash with each other. In the space of a few paragraphs, we hear that Neowater behaves "like a strong detergent", but somehow accelerates the growth of bacteria in culture. But at the same time it also prevents the formation of biofilms. And it increases the potency of antibiotics against bacteria, too. How it manages to do these things simultaneously is left, apparently, as an exercise for the reader.

The company claims that it has plenty of customers, and that it's working with several pharmaceutical companies to develop some of these applications. A search through the literature turned up one European molecular biology paper that mentioned using their PCR enhancing kit, so they've sold some Neowater for sure. But I'd like to turn this one over to the readers: have any of you seen this stuff? Know anyone who uses it?

And is everyone else's crank radar pinging as loudly as mine is? The thing is, unless a superior variety has up and evolved on us, cranks don't usually go out and form their own molecular biology reagent companies and place press releases in Genetic Engineering News. I'm profoundly sceptical of the claims this company makes, but I have the feeling that they're sincere in making them. Very odd, very odd indeed.

Comments (31) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Biological News


COMMENTS

1. Jake McGuire on February 2, 2006 10:33 PM writes...

I have the feeling that they're sincere in making them

Isn't truly believing your weird theories a necessary condition for crankhood?

To be sure, trying to make money from one's weird theories is more con-man than crank, but... this seems like an unusual audience for a con. Sell the man on the street something that'll cure his cold, and when his cold goes away, he'll credit you and come back for more. Sell John Q. Public, Ph.D. something to increase his PCR yields, and the first thing he'll do is repeat his last PCR run with your stuff to see if it actually does anything.

One could always call the members of their scientific advisory board, I guess.

Permalink to Comment

2. SRC on February 2, 2006 11:11 PM writes...

Hydrated water is the Philosopher's Stone? Why didn't I think of that?

Look for announcement of a deal with Kevin Trudeau any day now.

Permalink to Comment

3. Matthew Restko on February 3, 2006 1:54 AM writes...

I followed the link you posted to DoCoop's site and watched their flash animation that details the nature of Neowater. One highly suspect line jumped out at me:

"The hydration shell is thick enough to obscure of [sic] the chemical nature of the particles. The concentration of the nanoparticles is below the trace detection of conventional chemical analysis and maintains the liquid property of water."

Sounds like they're trying to give themselves a way out when people start experimenting with this stuff and finding out that they've bought nothing but water.

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4. Petros on February 3, 2006 3:08 AM writes...

Recalls to mind the furore that Coca-Cola generated in the UK with its attempts to sell an upmarket bottled water Dasaani.

It transpired that, in the UK, this was Thames tap water put through a purification process which actually left with dangerously high levels of bromate!

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5. Grubbs the cat on February 3, 2006 4:01 AM writes...

now I know why I have successfully avoided "Genetic Engineering News" so far - hard enough to keep up with Chemical Engineering News...

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6. Doc Bushwell on February 3, 2006 8:29 AM writes...

Re: odd publication full of ads and massaged press releases. That's as accurate an assessment of GEN as any I have heard. I admit that my erstwhile subscription, if it can be called that since it was a freebie when I received it, more often than not wound up in recycling. Now I find it annoying because colleagues' bulky GENs jam up our shared mailbox. GEN: The Weekly World News of the biotech sphere.

DoCoop would appear to be playing a game of smoke and mirrors, and quite a number of small companies with less suspicious products do this. It seems more or less equivalent to my one of my favorite offkilter companies, BlackLight Power. Bizarre hydration shells, hydrinos...hucksters.

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7. triticale on February 3, 2006 8:39 AM writes...

Wasn't there something like this some years back where a researcher claimed to have polymerized water so as to have changed its flow characteristics? The press photo supposedly showed it siphoning without a hose. Turned out after further investigation to have been dirty glassware or something like that.

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8. Derek Lowe on February 3, 2006 9:07 AM writes...

There have been several claims like that over the years, but the most famous was the early 1970s hoo-hah over "polywater". It was something that could only be produced in very small quantities inside tiny glass ampoules, and its odd properties turned out to be due to impurities leached out from. . .the glass ampoules.

The Wikipedia article on the subject is pretty decent. but for more details the definitive place to go is the 1981 book Polywater by chemist Felix Franks.

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9. ClayNY on February 3, 2006 10:22 AM writes...

Check out the MSDS and you'll find this surprisingly honest info:
2. Composition/Information on Ingredients
CAS No.: None
Chemical Formula: H2O
Molecular Weight: 18.02

http://www.docoop.com/files/docoop_files/Neowater%20MSDS%20rev1%205.pdf

This must be a practical joke by someone with a LOT of time on his hands. I think you win the grand prize, Derek!

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10. Cthulhu on February 3, 2006 11:51 AM writes...

You have mispelled my name, prepare to be devoured.

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11. dnarepairman on February 3, 2006 12:59 PM writes...

As a counterpoint to some of this, I can tell you that electromagnetically (and I suppose with conventional magnets too although I haven't tested it) treating your tap water actually does work to "soften" it and as a cell and molecular biologist I was highly skeptical of that as well. I now use a unit in my house and have left salt behind forever..not to mention not putting it into the environment.
Now there are several sites that "debunk" this technology but none seem to have tested it directly. The problem is the grains aren't removed as in ion exchange but apparently their size (hydration shell??) is altered such that they stick less well to pipes, you, your dishes, hair, etc. No one seems too concerned about trying to scientifically prove or disprove this technology but I can tell you from experience it works...Companies that sell this technology claim many large corporations as their clients.

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12. Gary Anderson on February 3, 2006 5:03 PM writes...

Why, as I read your decription, could I only think of homeopathic cures with "molecular memory" in the water? Have they gone "ligit", so to say??

Scary.

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13. KevinM on February 3, 2006 5:35 PM writes...

At $100/ml they don't need to sell much of it!

Permalink to Comment

14. TWAndrews on February 3, 2006 6:44 PM writes...

It seems more or less equivalent to my one of my favorite offkilter companies, BlackLight Power

Man, I'm just waiting until BLP goes public. It'll be like buying XEROX or Microsoft for a few dollars.

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15. PDOC on February 4, 2006 10:42 AM writes...

Sorry for the sidenote, but I heard some breaking news yesterday. J&J just eliminated a discovery unit in NJ (Raritan, I believe) (~300 jobs), they broke the news to employees on Friday. My source is a chemist whose wife works there, and thus lost her job.

Unfortunate news for those people, and also bad news for new job seekers like myself who now have to compete with an even bigger glut of experienced people flooding a very tight job market with resumes.

Permalink to Comment

16. SRC on February 4, 2006 10:43 PM writes...

As a counterpoint to some of this, I can tell you that electromagnetically (and I suppose with conventional magnets too although I haven't tested it) treating your tap water actually does work to "soften" it and as a cell and molecular biologist I was highly skeptical of that as well. I now use a unit in my house and have left salt behind forever..not to mention not putting it into the environment. Now there are several sites that "debunk" this technology but none seem to have tested it directly. The problem is the grains aren't removed as in ion exchange but apparently their size (hydration shell??) is altered such that they stick less well to pipes, you, your dishes, hair, etc. No one seems too concerned about trying to scientifically prove or disprove this technology but I can tell you from experience it works...Companies that sell this technology claim many large corporations as their clients.

You're inflaming my prejudices about molecular biologists, who sometimes seem they could use a course entitled "Introduction to Science and Scientific Research for Ph.D. Molecular Biologists."

Electromagnetic desalination is complete, utter nonsense. Where do I start? How about with the small detail that the alkaline earth salts (the ones on the left of the periodic table) that make water hard are diamagnetic. As in not attracted by a magnetic field, in fact slightly repelled. As in having minuscule energies of interaction with a magnetic field. (For a paramagnetic ion the energy difference induced by magnetization in a strong (1 T) magnetic field is on the order of 1 cm-1; for a diamagnetic ion, it's roughly 1% of that, or 0.01 cm-1. At room temperature kT is 210 cm-1, so the energy of interaction is approximately four orders of magnitude less than thermal energy. That's kind of like trying to slow down a truck by breaking wind in front of it.

Never mind the quantitative aspects, for which someone would actually have to know something about science. Common sense will crush your hypothesis, absent (as needs must be) any knowledge whatsoever of science. Think for a moment. If a magnetic field induced these karmic changes in hydration spheres about the ions (a risible notion, for the reasons pointed out above, but let's accept it for a moment), what happens when the magnetic field is removed, i.e., after the water leaves the magical softener? Duh.

One more point that should have intruded upon a nominal scientist's consciousness. If the "grains" (whatever those are) enter your house in the water supply, aren't removed, and don't "stick" to pipes, how could you possibly not be putting them into the environment?? They have to go somewhere, right? Are the walls of your magical softener bulging? If not, you've successfully destroyed matter (without generating a mushroom cloud), which would be ...shall we say ....noteworthy?

Your scare quote should have gone around "technology" rather than "debunk." Honestly, sometimes I think all it takes to get a Ph.D. in molecular biology is the ability to spell "DNA."

Sheesh.

/rant Permalink to Comment

17. PandaFan on February 5, 2006 11:59 PM writes...

I'm not sure if it is the same hucksters, but a supposedly molecularly distinct water is for sale in the health food section of the local huge chain grocery store. For the 'scoop' in all its cranky glory, see

http://www.pentawater.com/what.shtml

Permalink to Comment

18. Miguel Cizin on February 6, 2006 2:49 PM writes...

I am the Business Development at Do-Coop Technologies Ltd. While I would prefer not to intervene in the thread, because of the tone and scepticism, I would like to make two comments: 1. I invite any molecular biologist within the readers/posters to ask for a free sample of Neowater PCR Enhancer so you can see for yourselves the merits of Neowater to enhance your PCR sensitivity or cycle time, as an example. I also hope that after such results are in, the readers will be open to post them for all to see here. 2. The second comment: while polywater was created by accident when a lab technician introduced some wax inside the water while handling it, at Do-Coop we are able to consistently 'dope' water with insoluble particles, and hence we modify the physical properties of water in a unique, novel way. The process and composition patents have been filed recently, and you may review the claims, which are very broad since Neowater is a generic platform. In a sense, Neowater is 'more hydrophobic' water due to the hydration nuclei provided by the particles, and thus you can 'coat' hydrophobic compounds and use regular water to 'push' them closer together, avoiding the need to increase concentration in the traditional sense in order to enhance a reaction. I encourage scepticism, but also encourage scientists to be open enough to try the product and verify our claims, especially when we offer a free sample to try. The main risk and cost is on us, not the sceptical challenger. Our business model is based on helping our customers to solve their reactions' problems with Neowater, not on selling a fraudulent claim for a high price. However, I can understand the scepticism, especially after the polywater and other water related cases in the past, which makes our business development efforts a bit more challenging, but this is OK with us. Only time, the only real test, will tell whether Neowater is what we claim it to be, or not.

Miguel Cizin
miguel@docoop.com

Permalink to Comment

19. Cryptic Ned on February 6, 2006 5:07 PM writes...

Never mind the quantitative aspects, for which someone would actually have to know something about science. Common sense will crush your hypothesis, absent (as needs must be) any knowledge whatsoever of science.

You're aware that the person you're talking to is a PhD-level molecular biologist, but you're being incredibly condescending. By "science" in these two sentences, what you mean is "physics". I'm soon going to get a PhD in microbiology, and I've taken 1.5 semesters of physics in my life, and the only things I remember are the "right-hand rules" and the "normal force". I have no idea what the difference is between diamagnetism and paramagnetism. These things are not obvious.

Permalink to Comment

20. Chris C on February 6, 2006 5:09 PM writes...


Sorry, Miguel, but I'm not buying it.

What are these insoluable particles? How do I know they are inert and will not interfere with my application? Why isn't this information included in the MSDS sheet? If the particles are removed before shipment, how does the water retain its more ordered structure? Your product violates the laws of physics.

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21. Miguel Cizin on February 6, 2006 6:11 PM writes...

Chris-
I do not intend you to "buy it", but you could do a bit more homework before you ask questions. Our patent application describes more than 10 insoluble, crystalline particles that we have used to manufacture Neowater, such as TiO2, BaTiO2, diamond, silicas, BaSO4, and others, thus obtaining the same physical properties changes in the surrounding water. Once the nanoparticles are created via the patented process, inside the water, they cannot be taken out of the solution, as they are in a lower entropy state, and they remain there stable. Since the particles are in nanomol concentration, they are below any chemical trace detection and hence our MSDS shows just water, since Neowater is water, with similar chemical properties but very different dynamic physical properties relative to plain water.
Regarding your accusation that we may be violating the laws of physics, I would suggest that you review the background of the two physics professors in our Advisory Board, and feel free to send an email to either one of them explaining to them why you think that Neowater violates any physical law.
I am not trying to sell anything that you or others are not seeing any value for and willing to pay to buy more of it; just the opposite, I invited you and others to test Neowater free of charge and share test results with everyone else. Please visit our web site and review the extensive information in there before continuing to attack Neowater or our company with statements or questions for which there are answers out there already. Thanks, Miguel Cizin.

Permalink to Comment

22. SRC on February 6, 2006 9:14 PM writes...

By "science" in these two sentences, what you mean is "physics". I'm soon going to get a PhD in microbiology, and I've taken 1.5 semesters of physics in my life, and the only things I remember are the "right-hand rules" and the "normal force". I have no idea what the difference is between diamagnetism and paramagnetism. These things are not obvious.

Ned, I am being incredibly condescending, but I think it's warranted (and in any case, my exasperation got the better of me, for which I apologize - I've fielded too many contra-thermodynamic mechanistic suggestions from molecular biologists). As for the concepts of dia- and paramagnetism, physics is not required. Darkening the door of a chemistry lecture theater should do it.


My snarky comments regarding science were directed to the lack of appropriate scepticism. A bright English major could have asked the nonquantitative questions I posed. Such scepticism is at the heart of science, and was sadly missing here. "'Grains' go in, grains don't come out, where did the grains go?" is a query that doesn't depend on years of study of physics. Similarly, asking what happens when a magnetic field that changes a property is removed hardly is the stuff of high-powered physics. In this context that question requires only basic common sense, which as Voltaire famously observed, is a misnomer of the first (ahem) water.

Permalink to Comment

23. dnarepairman on February 6, 2006 9:23 PM writes...

Wow SRC! You're a scientist and can't allow for the fact that there are phenomena you can't fully explain. You must be a chemist because as a biologist I see things all the time that have no easy, rational, scientific explanation. Yet I have no need to berate people who discuss these phenomena especially when I can point to no published evidence that directly refutes the phenomena under discussion. I can only imagine the opportunities missed by your employer in having such a closed mind at work in discovery.

Your pompous rant did nothing to explain the phenomena I described but you did show your ignorance by not even understanding what the concept of a grain is in soft water terminology. Save your sophistry for your fellow chemists who might appreciate your bluster and the prodigious heat but meager light that you generate....I've seen you make rational comments on this blog before and I hope you can return to that level of discourse again in the future without the personal attacks on molecular biologists or anyone who might not have the same "training" as you.

Permalink to Comment

24. Derek Lowe on February 6, 2006 10:10 PM writes...

If this were my bar, instead of my blog, I'd buy both parties a drink and invite them to cool off. I have to say that I don't buy into the magnetic water softening stuff, either. But it should be a fairly easy thing to test - evaporate equal volumes with and without the magnet going and see what solids remain. Check the pH with and without, check the conductivity. This is actually the same sort of thing I want to do with NeoWater, on which more in tomorrow night's post. . .

Permalink to Comment

25. dnarepairman on February 6, 2006 11:01 PM writes...

Derek, I appreciate the sentiment but part of my motivation in posting the magnetic softening info was to elicit precisely the type of knee-jerk response given by SRC.

This is highlighted by the fact that you both seized upon the idea that I was implying that the "grains" were removed somehow. Of course this does not have to be the case at all and the companies that promote this technology do not make this case.

As chemists, you are well acquainted with solubility. The particle "properties" are apparently modified by the magnetic field (presumably solubiized to some extent) but they still exist in the water that has passed through the wire-wrapped pipe. Matter is neither being created nor destroyed...and so the evaporation test will likely fail. As for your other tests, I will leave that to the chemists.

I was very much intrigued though that something that would appear to be disruptive technology that is reportedly employed by companies like Visteon, Frito Lay, Chrysler Corporation, IBM, Shell Oil, Quaker Oats, and the U.S. Army and Air Force would be so quickly attacked and dismissed in this forum. That is often the way it is with new technology whose properties are not fully understood or appreciated.

I am not qualified to do rigorous testing of this technology. I am merely reporting that a water treatment that nearly all scientists (including myself at one time) would dismiss as hokum worked as reported in my home and I for one would love to see this technology fully investigated and thoroughly explained.

I understand that this technology IS catching on in California where environmental pressure to eliminate salt discharge is much greater than elsewhere in the country.

Permalink to Comment

26. The Strider on February 7, 2006 5:44 AM writes...

SRC,
I have been wondering about the effect of these magnets on tap water precipitation and I would appreciate if you could point out reliable scientific articles or resources that test/review this effect.

Permalink to Comment

27. SRC on February 7, 2006 1:10 PM writes...

I now use a unit in my house and have left salt behind forever..not to mention not putting it into the environment.

This is highlighted by the fact that you both seized upon the idea that I was implying that the "grains" were removed somehow.

The particle "properties" are apparently modified by the magnetic field (presumably solubiized to some extent) but they still exist in the water that has passed through the wire-wrapped pipe. Matter is neither being created nor destroyed...and so the evaporation test will likely fail.

So which is it – are you putting salt/particles/grains into the environment, or no? We seized on that idea because you asserted it in your original post. How else could one conceivably interpret "not putting it into the environment"?


You're a scientist and can't allow for the fact that there are phenomena you can't fully explain.

As for me, I dangle a rabbit's foot over the pipes to soften water. It works great. Unless you can find a scientific study debunking my water softening technology, we have to be open-minded and accept that there are things out there we just don't understand, right?


Seriously, though, you've missed the point. We're debating whether there is such a phenomenon, not its explanation (we're not there yet). The burden of proof is on you, for asserting the existence of a heretofore unobserved phenomenon, not on me, for denying it. The evidence proffered – anecdotal reports of silky hair and arguments from authority (as if large corporations don't do anything silly – good one!) is insufficient to support the assertion.


…as a biologist I see things all the time that have no easy, rational, scientific explanation.

I'm sure.


I understand that this technology IS catching on in California where environmental pressure to eliminate salt discharge is much greater than elsewhere in the country.

You've got me there. Would these">http://www.zombietime.com/how_berkeley_can_you_be/">these people go in for anything that wasn't sober and sensible?

This exchange underscores my semi-jocular point about all too many molecular biologists needing an introduction to scientific research. Originally I thought it was just ones of my acquaintance, but it now appears that the problem is more general. There seems to be something seriously wrong with their scientific education, a fundamental failure to grasp the logic of scientific research – in any field. They're technically proficient, but intellectually disarmed.

Too often they evince a mystical "Gaia-esque" perspective, standing in awe of nature's complexity ("as a biologist I see things all the time that have no easy, rational, scientific explanation"), which they compound by muddy thinking, and eschewing reductionism as incompatible with that complexity. They seem happy to accept any and all information as equally valid, cheerfully invoking new concepts and phenomena to explain whatever information comes to hand, independent of the likely reliability of that information.

They seem to employ a "big tent" approach to data; there's no bouncer at the tent flap to sweat suspect observations and insist on their corroboration before accepting them. Irreproducible experiments provide no cause for concern; such experiments are accepted as just more evidence of nature's complexity, or simply shrugged off. ("Something must have happened to the cell line.")

Further, they seem to consider that any experiment that does not directly contradict their hypothesis confirms it, regardless of whether that experiment speaks to the issue. Their perspective seems to be, "Who are we to judge?" (cf. the comment re open-mindedness made above). (The evidence indicates OJ did it, OJ swears it was aliens in ski masks…who's to say?)

In particular, Occam's Razor is more honored in the breach than the observance. Someone proposing a concept outside the established paradigm – electromagnetic desalination of water leaps to mind here - bears the burden of proving the need to invoke that new concept to explain confirmed observations – not the converse. The data – hard data, not anecdotal hearsay – must force us to modify our conceptual framework. In the absence of such data, scientists default to scepticism. That's what I meant by needing an introduction to scientific research.

Permalink to Comment

28. Derek Lowe on February 7, 2006 1:41 PM writes...

A large roundup of links and commentary on magnetic-related claims can be found here. One of the links is to Cranfield University in England, which has a page on the subject of magnetic water softening here.

It looks like, as I'd thought, that there's a lot of nonsense being talked in this area. But there also seems to be a small amount of systematic investigation going on, some of which is showing effects on calcium salt deposition. Apparently you have to control for a lot of variables to get anything reproducible, which problem confuses or invalidates a lot of the existing literature.

One hypothesis which at least makes sense to me is that iron-containing impurities in the water might be serving as different kinds of nucleation sites for salt deposition. At any rate, I'm certainly willing to admit that this is a useful subject for research, while at the same time maintaining that it's currently far from a well-established or generally reproducible effect. And the whole subject suffers from a grievously low signal-to-noise ratio because of all the scams and nonsense that surrounds it.

Permalink to Comment

29. Dave H on February 7, 2006 4:22 PM writes...

Hey Neowater already has a name - vicinal water

http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/iechad/1969/61/i11/f-pdf/f_ie50719a005.pdf?sessid=6006l3


Drost-Hansen loved this stuff, and long ago it paid for my undergrad existence. Only one page here, but I've got no time to dwell upon the past. There's mountains of additional work out there.

Permalink to Comment

30. Chris C. on February 7, 2006 5:56 PM writes...

I agree this shouldn't be discussed without doing homework. This URL shows Do-Coop's patent application. Everything you want to know.

http://www.wipo.int/ipdl/IPDL-CIMAGES/images3.jsp?WEEK=35/2005&DOC=05/079153&TYPE=A2&TIME=1139352476

Neowater link

Permalink to Comment

31. Palecur on February 8, 2006 1:38 AM writes...

For cripes' sake, SRC, he's saying that by using magnetic softening he's not putting extra _salt_ into the output stream, not that the magnetic softener is removing particles from the water. Regular water softeners add salts, you know? This magnetic thing dnarepairman is discussing adds nothing, hence no excess salts in the output wastewater stream, just whatever mineral content is already present. Quit beating up a strawman of your own invention.

Permalink to Comment

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