Researchers at MIT have discovered that, under certain conditions, light at the interface where water meets air can directly bring about evaporation without the need for heat.

Water held in a hydrogel material exhibited a significantly higher evaporation rate than could be explained by the thermal energy it received, suggesting that light itself was causing evaporation.

The phenomenon, named the photomolecular effect, was observed in hydrogel experiments, and the researchers suggest it may occur under other conditions as well.

This discovery challenges the conventional understanding that water does not absorb light significantly.

The researchers believe this finding could impact the formation and evolution of fog and clouds and may be crucial for improving climate models.

Applications include potential advancements in solar-powered desalination systems, with the researchers aiming to achieve high efficiency on the evaporation side.

The photomolecular effect may also have applications in evaporative cooling processes, potentially leading to highly efficient solar cooling systems.

The researchers are collaborating with other groups to replicate the findings and address skepticism surrounding the unexpected results.

They also found that the combination of water and hydrogel exhibited strong absorption, allowing them to use solar energy to exceed thermal evaporation limits.

The researchers believe that this phenomenon could explain natural phenomena such as the formation of fog and clouds. It could also lead to new approaches to desalination.