What Is The Biological Significance Of Water?

Water is the most available compound on earth. That may be the reason that its significance as a chemical is overlooked.

Water is the most available compound on earth. Many of us take it for granted. Although it is the basis of life, that is just the begining of water as a useful chemical. In fact water is useful in more ways than most of us ever think about. Everyday chemists discover new uses for what is one of the things most taken for granted. Water still and holds new potential to change our world forever.

Although water is abundant, it is a very simple compound with a complex set of properties. Nearly everything about water is somehow unusual or contradictory. Water has a formula of H2O which means it has two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen in every molecule. Water's melting and boiling points (Zero and 100 degrees celsius respectively)are higher than would be expected based on similar compounds. It is unusually viscous based on its comparatively small molecular weight. Water has the ability to act as either an acid or a base depending on the circumstances, and by its nature it is perfectly neutral (it's the standard for balance between acids and alkalines[bases]). Water is the most universal of solvents and though polar in its make up, it exhibits properties that indicate a sort of polymerizing link between its molecules similar to heavier organic non-polar compounds.

While it exists on earth in all three basic states, solid, liquid, and gas, water's properties are often bizarre by most standards. For example liquid water contracts when cooled until it reaches a temperature of about 4 degrees Celsius where it reaches its maximum density. When this temperature is reached liquid water begins to expand, and even with a change in state to ice, water continues to expand, by reducing its density as its temperature decreases.

Water is also extremely useful due to its high heat capacity. It has an enormous ability to absorb and transmit energy. For example the amount of energy it would take to melt 1 kilogram of ice at zero degrees Celius would be enough to lower the temperature of 1 kilogram of Aluminum over 570 degrees Celsius. While the amount of heat it would take to melt that kilogram of ice, heat it and boil away, 720 Calories, would be enough to raise that same amount of Aluminum to its melting point! This is why water is ideal as a insulation or a heat dissipation source. It holds more heat than just about anything. This is odd because there is nothing in its chemical makeup or structure that justifies this ability to hold so much heat.

Water reacts with more substances than any other compound. It reacts physically with several compounds to add to their crystal structure. Compounds like copper and magnesium sulfate are two examples of many compounds that almost always found in nature with water molecules physically attached to their crytal structure. These type of compounds are often "dried out" or dehydrated and used to absorb water from their surroundings. Some of these compounds, have water as such an important part of their structure that they will even extract all available moisture from the air. These compound are natural dehumidifiers, dependent on water to complete their structure.

Water also reacts chemically with many substances, creating new substances or compounds. Dissolve Ammonia gas in water and the result is a powerful base, Ammonium Hydroxide. Dissolve Hydrogen Chloride gas in water and the result is a powerful acid, Hydrochloric Acid. These are but two of many examples of water combining with another compound to create a new substance. In some cases water's presence in abundance explains why some substances are not usually found. For example pure forms of two abundant and common elements on earth, almost never are found in nature. Sodium and Potasium, both metals in their pure form, are almost never found in nature because they react instantly and explosively when brought into contact with water. These are extreme examples but everyone knows that water aids in the rusting and corrosion of metals, Water acts as a catalyst for rust which is the combining of oxygen to metal.



Water is also a source of hydrogen and oxygen for chemical reactions. Many organic compounds get their oxygen and/or hydrogen from reactions with water. Alcohols, fatty acids, proteins, and many other organic compounds owe their existance to the reaction of organic molecules with water.

While water is used both chemically and physcially, with both organic and inorganic substances, it has some characteristics that scientist still don't completely understand. Water molecules have a unique ability to be energized by microwave radiation, and at the same time make an excellent barrier to nuclear radiation. It absorbs neutrons in nuclear powerplants, yet is easily heated by microwaves.

As abundant as water is and as familiar as it is, it is amazing what scientists can't explain about it. Why does it have such properties of cohesion? Water has a very high surface tension though it is such a small molecule. Why? What causes ice to expand as it gets colder? How can water act as both a polar and non-polar solvent? These and other questions have evaded complete explaination even today.

Water still has some suprises left. Due to the existence of heavy hydrogen atoms of deutrium and trinium, water is the primary source of the raw materials needed for hydrogen bombs. Water also is the ideal source of hydrogen for the creation of Plasma, and the possible development of controlled fusion reactions.

Water is a compound that we know so well yet know so little about. In its simple structure may be the key to understanding so much about the nature of chemical structures and reactions. A complete understanding of how and why the water molecule works may prove invaulable to our future development of new products and technologies.

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