Let’s talk about an aspect of desalination that is truly spooky: magnetic effects on scaling and water softening.
Claims that fixed or variable magnetic fields can reduce mineral scaling and improve water softening have been around since the 1890’s. Today you can find a dizzying variety of devices on Amazon that claim to be able to reduce mineral scaling in pipes and soften water (“Remove dissolved Ca and Mg! Without chemicals!”). The scientific literature, however, is not nearly so positive. Some reputable researchers have reported measurable effects while others report no such effects, using seemingly similar experimental approaches. Spooky!
Into this dark and haunted field of water treatment, our intrepid colleague Prof. Pei Xu of New Mexico State University and her team will try to get to the bottom of this mystery. Like the brave characters in the long-running animated children’s show Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, Pei and her team (which includes Huiyao Wang, Fanjun Shu, Yanxing Wang, and Lambis Papelis at NMSU and Lawrence Anovitz at Oak Ridge National Lab) intend to bravely enter the haunted house of past studies of magnetic water treatment and shine a bright light to better understand what may be the source of the mystery. That bright flashlight? Small-angle X-ray and neutron scattering to resolve the atomic-level structure of nano-clusters of scaling ions in solution.
“Like the blind people feeling parts of the elephant, many researchers have touched an aspect of this phenomenon”, Pei told me recently. “We intend to develop a complete picture of the phenomenon including examining the effects of field strength, gradient strength, and the impact of dissolved organics.”
Pei and her team will also attempt to unify the range of past observations and the various theories that have been proposed to explain the strange effects observed. “For example,” notes Pei, “surface tension is observed to increase under strong magnetic fields, but surface tension is also observed to go in the opposite direction under weaker fields.” Spooky!
I asked Pei if she grew up watching the TV show Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? “Unfortunately, I did not,” Pei replied. I explained that there were 5 teen characters and a Great Dane named Scooby Doo who drove around in a van called the Mystery Machine solving crimes and debunking stories of ghosts and paranormal activities (and uncovering the nefarious adults who were perpetrating each hoax). “That’s very interesting”, Pei patiently replied.
We look forward to learning what NAWI’s version of “the Mystery Gang” uncovers as they investigate this strange phenomenon. Don’t change that dial!