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How polarity makes water behave strangely - Christina Kleinberg

Transcriber: Andrea McDonough Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar

How come some insects are able to walk

on the surface of a pond,

but you quickly sink to the bottom

when you try to walk on water?

And why do lakes freeze from the top down in winter?

In a word, the answer to all these questions is polarity.

Water is a simple molecule

made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms,

but it is essential to life.

In fact, water makes up approximately 60%

of the adult human being's body weight.

The polarity within those water molecules

gives this common substance the properties

that make it unique and life-sustaining.

Polarity refers to the unequal sharing

of electrons within a molecule.

For water, the bonding between the oxygen atom

and two hydrogen atoms within a single water molecule

is like a tug-of-war between a big, strong football player

and a cute little toddler.

Oxygen is a larger atom,

with more protons in its nucleus than hydrogen.

These positive charges are like a person's physical strength.

They're able to attract

the negatively charged electrons in the bond,

just like a strong individual is able to overpower

a weaker individual in a tug of war.

So, oxygen is able to attract

more than its fair share of electrons.

Because hydrogen is smaller and has less strength,

or fewer protons,

it loses the tug of war

and attracts fewer than its fair share of electrons.

So, the oxygen in water behaves as though it's negative,

and the hydrogens behave as though they're positive.

The bonds within a single water molecule

are called polar covalent bonds.

Covalent means that the electrons are shared.

But, as we just learned,

polar means that these electrons are not shared equally.

In water, the oxygen acts negative

and the hydrogens act positive.

Since negative and positive attract,

that oxygen is attracted to the hydrogen atoms

in neighboring water molecules.

A special type of bond forms between water molecules,

known as a hydrogen bond.

Hydrogen bonds don't just happen in water either.

They can form between a water molecule

and different substances that are polar or ionic.

Water's ability to stick to itself is called cohesion,

while water's ability to stick to other substances

is called adhesion.

Now, think back to the initial questions.

First, why are some insects able to walk on water?

Surface tension due to hydrogen bonding

creates a thin film on the surface of water

that gives enough resistance

for super-light insects to walk on.

You can't walk on it

because the hydrogen bonds aren't strong enough

to hold you up.

Why does ice float on top of liquid water?

For most other substances,

the solid state is more dense than the liquid state,

but that is not the case for water!

Hydrogen bonds keep water molecules

farther apart in frozen water than in liquid water.

The farther apart the molecules are,

the less dense that solid is.

So ice is about 9% less dense than water,

which means it floats on the top.

That's why lakes freeze from the top down

and aquatic life is able to survive

through a cold winter every year.

It is the polarity of the water molecule

and the resulting hydrogen bonding

that account for water's unique properties.

So, the reason that water is so special,

from inside your cells

to the world's oceans,

is simply because it is a polar molecule.