Water structure and chaotropicity: their uses, abuses and biological implications

Philip Ball, John E. Hallsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

159 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of "water structure" has been invoked to explain all manner of aqueous phenomena. Here we look at the origins of this tendency to understand solute hydration in terms of structural changes in bulk water, and consider the validity of one particular example: the classification of small solutes as chaotropic or kosmotropic, and the putative relation of this terminology to notions of structure-making and structure-breaking in the solvent. We doubt whether complex phenomena such as Hofmeister and osmolyte effects on macromolecules can be understood simply on the basis of a change in solvent structure. Rather, we argue that chaotropicity, if understood in the original sense, arises from the activities that solutes exert on macromolecular systems, as well as from deviations of solvation water from bulk-like behaviour. If applied judiciously, chaotropicity remains a potent, biologically pertinent parameter useful for classifying and understanding solution phenomena in all types of living system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8297-8305
Number of pages9
JournalPhysical Chemistry Chemical Physics
Issue number13
Early online date02 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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