Hydrate Molecular Ballet

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Science  20 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5956, pp. 1070-1071
DOI: 10.1126/science.1183027

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Hydrates are crystalline solids in which guest molecules are trapped within polyhedral water cages (1). They are important in hydrocarbon processing (2) and could play a major role in sustainable energy production (3, 4). Methane hydrate occurs naturally and in vast quantities on ocean floors and in permafrost, with implications for climate change and energy recovery (2). However, the molecular mechanisms leading to hydrate formation are poorly understood; this knowledge gap affects not just the science and technology of these materials, but our comprehension of hydrophobicity (5) and of disorder-order phase transitions. On page 1095 of this issue, Walsh et al. report a computational tour de force that offers a fascinating glimpse of the molecular events leading to methane hydrate formation (6).