By Richard Bleil
Recently, a video was released (at least I believe it was recent) on water. The point of the video was the fascinating nature of water, which is very true. It’s a highly unique compound, although we wouldn’t recognize it here on earth because, here, we are SO used to water as part of our daily experiences. Covering over 70% of the earth surface, it is quite abundant, so much so that we feel as though we can pollute it without consequences despite the fact that every living organism on earth, other than viruses, depend on water to survive, and viruses are not even considered to be life forms by some.
Water consists of two elements, hydrogen and oxygen, in a ratio of 2:1. In chemistry, “1” is often inferred, so the formula H2O (where “2” is supposed to be subscripted) tells us this ratio. The video claimed that water is very abundant in the universe, but I’m not believing it. The most common element in the universe is hydrogen (roughly 93% of all elements in the universe) and helium (approximately 7%). It’s not surprising; every sun (as far as we know) is a nuclear fusion furnace converting hydrogen to helium and releasing energy as it does so, so we would expect these to be the two most common elements. You’ll notice that this makes up nearly 100% of the total elements. Oxygen, necessary for water, is only about 0.05% of the total elements. Yes, water is being discovered on more and more planets (recently claimed to have been found on the moon and Mars, for example), but I would hardly expect it to be common.
The chemical properties of water are truly fascinating. The video claims that scientists don’t understand why water is liquid on our planet, because the elements are so light that it should exist only as a gas. Well, seriously; just how dumb do you think scientists are? If you ONLY consider the mass of the molecule, then, yes, I suppose it would be a gas, but it’s liquid because of intermolecular forces. See, every intermolecular force is related, in one way or another, to electrostatic attraction of positive regions of the molecule or element to negative regions on others. There are three major forms of intermolecular forces; the weakest is “Van der Waal” forces. EVERY element or compound exhibits this force; it’s the default force if nothing else is present. If electrons are shared unevenly, the second strongest intermolecular force is called “dipole-dipole”, which is the attraction of the positive side of one molecule to the negative side of another. The absolute strongest force is (despite its name) a non-bonding intermolecular force known as the “hydrogen bond”. Water can form not just one, but two hydrogen bonds with nearby water molecules, meaning the molecules hang on to each other with extreme strength, and it’s why water is liquid on the planet.
Yup, we know that.
Now, the nature of the hydrogen bond IS very much in debate in chemistry. It’s a fascinating intermolecular force, very close to a chemical bond but just…not…quite…there. Among ions is an important li’l buggar called the hydronium ion, which is just H with a positive charge. When measuring the rate of diffusion of ions (how fast ions like potassium and sodium move in water), hydronium just didn’t fit the trend, traveling FAR faster than anything else, and FAR faster than it should. As it turns out, it wasn’t traveling at all. Because hydrogen bonds are so close to chemical bonds, what would happen is the water simply shifted its bonds, forming chemical bonds with a hydronium ion in one place, shifting the bonds quite a long distance until the final bond breaks on the other end, forming a new hydronium ion.
Here’s an example of just how bizarre water really is; water is the ONLY compound known to science that EXPANDS on freezing! Okay, there is one element that also expands, but that’s it. Any other compound in the world, when it freezes, forms solid on the BOTTOM, while ICE floats. This is kind of an interesting freak property of water, and is responsible for the development of life. Yup, the only compound that actually floats on water, and life depended on this to begin. See, when plankton began clinging to land to form plants, it did so on the ocean floor. If ice formed from the bottom up, there would have been no ocean floor; ice would have formed, covering the bottom of the ocean because there would be no circulation, and the ocean floor would always be solid. (Water is at its densest at 4 degrees Celsius, or 39 degrees Fahrenheit. This means the ocean floor is just about 4 degrees Celsius (seven degrees Fahrenheit) above freezing, because the heaviest water is at the bottom.
So the next time you have a lovely glass of ice water, take a moment to appreciate that any other liquid would have it’s solid on the bottom, and that’s why we are alive to drink it!