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Should you ever before have to placed out a fire, would certainly you threat dousing it with a chemical formed from 2 of the many vehemently combustible aspects in the periodic table, or simply go with plain tap water?

That to be a trick question — water is specifically one together substance. Oxygen and also hydrogen, by themselves, are few of the many reactive elements we recognize of and also thank kindness for that — since of its vast energy potential, hydrogen is our finest bet because that future fuels, and oxygen is therefore despairingly fire-prone that also our cells usage it for energy. Air is around 21% oxygen, but increase the concentration through a few percent and even flame-retardant foam will burn prefer a grease fire. This ability to integrate with any kind of fuel has permitted it come power complex organisms because that as long as there have been facility organisms.

Yet placed the two together and also they end up being a firefighter’s best friend. I m sorry is surprising, to say the least. Favor that one colleague that missed the department-wide memo, water goes about its day seemingly chaste of how the laws of physics and chemistry to speak it must behave. Chemistry bundle these unexpected traits under the term “anomalous properties of water,” and also today we’re going to go v a few of the strange things this fluid does.


First of all, the shouldn’t even be fluid at room temperature

Image credits Joe Pell/Flickr.

Water is the typical go-to instance for what liquids are, however chemically speaking, it should be a gas. Water has a molar massive of roughly 18 g/mol and is liquid at room temperature, yet hydrogen sulfide (with a comparable structure) and also ammonia (with a comparable molar mass,) are gases over the exact same thermal variety even despite they are just as heavy, if no heavier, 보다 water. Also air, with a mass of around 29 g/mol is heavier 보다 water however is decidedly gaseous.


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This happens due to the fact that water molecule really favor hanging with other water molecules. The H-O-H framework of water means that they come to be highly polarized, the hydrogen atoms creating positive poles and also the oxygen atom forming a negative pole. As soon as left come their own devices, water molecules will line increase poles of the opposite charges and bunch into each other, forming what are known as hydrogen bonds. To gain an idea of their effect, however, we have to look in ~ both the molar mass and also densities of these substances.

Molar mass usually tells us exactly how much an identical variety of molecules of each substance weighs. Density tells us how much a collection volume that a problem weighs, so us can obtain an idea the how countless molecules space in a given space. This way, we can see how an effective an impact the hydrogen bond has actually on maintaining water molecules together — while ammonia has actually a density of 0.73 kg/m³ and hydrogen sulfide has a density of 1.36 kg/m³, water has actually a whopping density of 1,000 kg/m³. The molecules are just exceptionally close packed, reducing cost-free space between them and turning a should-be gas into the liquid we know and love.


The high cohesion of its molecules also gives water a high freezing and also melting point, enabling it to form all the oceans and also seas us know and also love.

It’s less dense as a solid than as a liquid

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As a problem goes native a gas to a liquid and also then a hard its molecules progressively get smushed right into each various other — that’s why in solids, the same quantity of issue takes less space than in a liquid, i m sorry takes up also less room than a gas. Yet water won’t have any kind of of that. If you’ve ever before seen a photo of one iceberg you’ll understand that ice, the solid form of water, is less dense than — and thus, floats top top — its fluid state.

The same hydrogen molecule come right into play here. Water’s freezing suggest is in ~ 0 degrees Celsius (32 Fahrenheit.) yet it get its highest density at 4 levels Celsius (39.2 Fahrenheit,) after which the molecules start drifting apart as it freezes. When in a liquid state every molecule is bound to approximately 3.4 various other molecules via hydrogen bonds, as soon as water freezes the crystallizes into a rigid lattice tying each molecule v 4 others. This plan is more rigid however less space efficient, forming gaps (free space) that rise its volume and effectively lower the overall density that ice.

This property has actually ruined plenty of a water pipe throughout winter however does wonders for life. Think the the ice cream cover ~ above a lake frozen over. If water behaved follow to the dominance book and also ice was denser 보다 the liquid, lakes would freeze over from the bottom up. This would certainly not just make ice-skating means less enjoyable yet would kill off every the animals and also plants that resided in it. The method it is now, water in ~ 4 degrees Celsius sinks to the bottom and the coldest water rises as much as the surface. So fish can live in a comfortable (for them) environment, and also get a cost-free layer of ice the insulates the lake indigenous cold in the same bargain. Seeing as life on earth most likely progressed in the oceans, we should all be an extremely grateful for this.

It expands significantly when turned into a gas

Image credits Wikimedia user BrockenInaglory

As we’ve seen, water has a low molar weight however forms a surprisingly thick liquid. This also way that it has a very high liquid-to-gas volume change, enhancing its volume 1603.6 fold — the greatest known, in fact, v the exception of metals and almost double that of common gases (oxygen rises just 804 fold.)

When water is heated, thermal energy pushes its molecule apart, counteracting the impact of the hydrogen bonds. This is why power plants cook water for their turbines and not alcohol, because that example, also if it has actually a greater boiling point. This very big increase in volume on vaporization permits fine water fog to be offered in fighting fires through displacing the oxygen through water vapor.

Under the surface

Water is nothing if not spectacular. There’s much more to it is in said around it, just how it covers lot of the planet, forms continents, underlies all life top top Earth and also keeps the planet from acquiring too hot, among other things — this write-up barely touch the tip of the iceberg, so come speak. Yet for me, the fact that also a substance as commonplace and also innocuous as water has so much going on under the surface, that we’d never ever expect just by looking in ~ it, is nothing quick of amazing.

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Alexandru Micu

Stunningly charming pun connoisseur, I have actually been fascinated through the world approximately me since I an initial laid eye on it. Always curious, I"m just having a tiny fun with some really serious science.