In our visual storytelling blog series titled the ‘Nature India Photo Story’, we feature artfully told stories that explore the realms of science, wildlife, environment, health or anything else that smells of science.
In today’s photo story, we feature experimental physical chemist Mohammad Tariq from the Faculty of Science and Technology, New University of Lisbon, Caparica, Portugal. The theme of his story is something that touches all life on Earth — water.
Tariq traces his journey with water through ‘Aqua Tales’ — a nuanced narration that looks at water not just as the most bountiful resource of Nature, but also as his passionate research interest, and as the metaphorical wave that keeps propelling him to newer shores.
Water is a complex, wondrous fluid, essential for life on Earth. It is the most abundant chemical in nature. Apart from the interest it generates among scientists and academics, water has been the most important element for the survival of many civilizations that thrived on banks of rivers. Water is also the reason flora and fauna flourish on Earth.
My journey and interaction with various water bodies started from my native town Bijnor in Uttar Pradesh, India. It is in Bijnor that I had the rare privilege of befriending the mighty river Ganga. The deep stream of the river flows throughout the western boundary of Bijnor.
My doctoral research at Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi was focused on the characterization of thermophysical properties of liquids and liquid mixtures including aqueous solutions at different concentrations and temperatures. In the final years of PhD, my research interest started to shift towards the properties of a novel
class of exotic salts known as “ionic liquids”. Sea and salt have a long known relationship.
After finishing PhD, I moved for a postdoc assignment to the Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology (acronym ITQB in Portuguese) in Portugal — the land of great explorers and navigators. Apart from its excellent research facilities, what makes ITQB remarkable is its location in the beautiful town of Oeiras, around 17 Kilometers away from the capital of Lisbon. My office faced the Atlantic Ocean. Out of the several interesting projects at ITQB, the most appealing to me was the detailed study of the effect of structurally diverse ionic liquids on the density anomaly of water. This also laid the foundation of my future research.
I got an opportunity to work at the University of Vigo, Spain in 2012, where I witnessed the immense beauty of one of the best and most eco-friendly beaches of the world at Islas Cies — a group of three islands. At the University of Vigo we used the speed of sound and density measurements on solutions of a series of ionic liquids to characterise their self-assembling process in water.
After spending almost 6 years in Europe, I moved to Qatar and got introduced to the Persian Gulf. The pleasant view of the corniche in Doha, which brought the shallow water of the Persian Gulf to the middle of the city, was always a sight. An hour’s drive from Doha city took one to the sand dunes and in-land sea (Khor-al-adaid) at the border of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
At Qatar University, my passion for the peculiar properties of water continued and I studied a distinct form of structured water known as “gas hydrates”, hydrogen bonded water molecules in which the guest gas molecules are trapped in cavities. Formation of gas hydrates within gas pipelines is a persistent problem faced by the oil and gas industry worldwide, including in Qatar. Gas processing from the deep-sea, where temperatures are low and pressures are high, provides suitable conditions for the formation of gas hydrates.
In the pursuit of a work-life balance, I moved back to Portugal in 2016 but this time to the other side of the river Tagus where I now work at the New University of Lisbon. The university is situated near Costa da Caparica, a tiny, breathtakingly beautiful coastal town. Here, I am engaged in the in-depth study of clathrate-hydrates, specially the role of hydrogen bonding and water structure in their formation and dissociation.
Juan G Beltran wrote the following in an article in the Journal of Chemical Thermodynamics (117, 2018) and I think it aptly sums up my passion for hydrates: “A snowflake is a letter from heaven (U. Nakaya), a diamond is a letter from the depth (F.C. Frank). What then is a gas hydrate?”
During this decade-long scientific journey across cultures, languages and continents, I have observed a change in my research interests. However, they have always centered around the properties of liquids and aqueous solutions. Now I am eagerly waiting to see if water will allow me to settle down or another wave will sail me towards a new destination.
Mohammad Tariq can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org