The bright ultrafast pulses of X-ray Free-Electron Lasers allow investigation into the structure of matter under extreme conditions. We have used single pulses to ionize and probe water as it undergoes a phase transition from liquid to plasma. We report changes in the structure of liquid water on a femtosecond time scale when irradiated by single 6.86 keV X-ray pulses of more than 106 J/cm2 These observations are supported by simulations based on molecular dynamics and plasma dynamics of a water system that is rapidly ionized and driven out of equilibrium. This exotic ionic and disordered state with the density of a liquid is suggested to be structurally different from a neutral thermally disordered state.
Keywords: Serial Femtosecond Crystallography; X-ray Free-Electron Laser; molecular dynamics; non-local thermodynamics equilibrium; ultrafast phase transition.