Polywater – fact or fiction?

GEORGIA NIELSEN takes a look at hype surrounding polywater and the attention it received in the March 1970 edition of ANU Reporter.

In the 1960s the world of science was taken by storm with the discovery of a new form of water.

Scientists in the US and Russia both independently made the discovery, claiming that the water was 40 per cent more dense, didn't solidify until 40 degrees below Celsius, and didn't seem to have boiling point.

Their discovery was named polywater and its enigmatic properties stumped researchers for years.

The discovery captured the imaginations of the public with newspaper headlines proclaiming "New Water Doesn't Freeze."

Some scientists speculated about its potential as an anti-freeze or anti-corrosive agent.

Others worried about the catastrophic possibility that it could escape the lab and by chain reaction create more polywater on its own.

Their imaginations were delighted further with polywater forming the basis of the 1967 Star Trek episode The Naked Time in which the existence of polywater was finally proven by Dr Lenard McCoy in the 23rd century.

Unlike its real world counterpart, the Star Trek version acted as a virus, transmitted by perspiration, which acted like alcohol on the brain.

By 1969 the worldwide race to reproduce polywater had sparked US fears of a "polywater gap" - borrowing from the Cold War term "missile gap" which communicated the perceived superiority of the USSR's missiles over those of the US..