The universe's most miraculous molecule

October 9, 2015 by Richard Gunderman, The Conversation
Credit: George Thomas/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

It's the second most abundant substance in the universe. It dissolves more materials than any other solvent. It stores incredible amounts of energy. Life as we know it would not be possible without it. And although it covers more than 70% of the Earth's surface, many parts of the world are in dire straits for lack of it. What is it?

The answer, of course, is water. In some ways, water is one of the substances we know best, in part because it makes up 75% of our bodies. Every day we drink it, bathe in it, clean with it and use it to dispose of our wastes. Yet scientists are still striving to understand many of water's remarkable properties, and the 21st century will force us to think about water like we never have before.

What makes water so remarkable?

For most of human history, water was considered to be one of the four elements, along with air, earth and fire. It was only in the 18th century that chemist Antoine Lavoisier passed an electrical current through water and realized that it gives off two gases: hydrogen (literally, "water maker") and oxygen.

The formula of water is H2O – two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. One of water's most remarkable properties is traceable to the hydrogen bonds that continually form and reform between its slightly negatively charged oxygen and slightly positively charged hydrogen components. Thanks to these bonds, water molecules attract one another far more strongly than those of almost any other substance.

These hydrogen bonds give water a very high specific heat, meaning that it takes a great amount of to warm it. It also has a remarkably high boiling point compared to other chemically similar molecules, such as hydrogen sulfide. These properties enable human beings to dissipate large amounts of heat during exercise by perspiring.

Another consequence of hydrogen bonding is capillary action (the topic of Einstein's first paper), which occurs, for example, when a liquid is drawn up between the hairs of a paintbrush. The water molecules attract one another so strongly that they defy the force of gravity. When water evaporates from the highest leaves of a tree, it draws up other water molecules from the roots far below.

Still another consequence of hydrogen bonding is water's high surface tension. This accounts for its tendency to form droplets and enables some insects literally to walk on water. This force can be so strong that premature infants, who lack surfactant, a substance that lessens it, can become exhausted just trying to inflate their lungs. Fortunately, surfactant is now available as a medication.

The fact that water has slightly positively and negatively charged poles also makes it the "universal solvent," perfect for dissolving salts, sugars, acids, alkalis and even gases such as carbon dioxide, accounting for the fizz in sodas. Such substances are known as hydrophilic (water-loving), precisely because they dissolve so easily in water.

By contrast, fats and oils are classified as hydrophobic, because they do not have electrical charges at their ends. As a result, they are attracted more strongly to one another than to water. To wash such substances from our hands or clothes, we need soaps, which have both hydrophobic and hydrophilic ends that help break them up into tiny droplets that can be carried away by water.

From one state to another

Even more remarkably, water is practically the only substance known to man that, as it cools from its liquid to solid state, actually expands. Virtually every other substance becomes denser as it "freezes," but thanks to this remarkable property, ice cubes float in our drinks. More importantly for living organisms, lakes and other bodies of water freeze from the top down.

Ice's remarkably low density is attributable to the fact that water molecules need thermal energy to maintain the random orientations they assume in liquid water. As the temperature decreases, the molecules begin to line up in a regular latticework. To do so, however, the distance between them must increase. As a result, ice is about 9% less dense than liquid water.

The adage that no two snowflakes are alike seems hard to believe until you consider the fact that the patterns in which water molecules freeze vary depending on temperature and humidity. When you add the fact that the average snow crystal contains about 10 quintillion (10 followed by 18 zeroes) water molecules, it is easy to see why the number of possible combinations is unimaginably large.

A continuous cycle

Water is also incredibly dynamic, continuously moving all over the Earth in a cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation and runoff back to seas and lakes. The same is true among living organisms, where the hydrogen and oxygen constituents of water are continually combining and recombining through the processes of photosynthesis and respiration.

And while we cannot live without water, it should also be said that we are water producers. Each time we break down a molecule of glucose, we produce six molecules of water, a reaction that takes place in the typical human body about six septillion (6 followed by 24 zeroes) times per day. Even so, we still don't produce enough water to meet our own needs.

Although droughts in the western US are garnering considerable attention today, it is likely that water will become an even hotter topic over the course of this century. For one thing, only about 3% of the Earth's water is fresh water, the other 97% being found in the oceans. And about 70% of this fresh water is found in glaciers and the ice caps of Antarctica.

As a result, even though the Earth holds enough water to make a sphere about 860 miles in diameter, only a tiny percentage of this water is easily accessible to human beings, and increasing shortages loom in the future. Some scientists have predicted that, as some point in the 21st century, fresh water will become a more valuable commodity than petroleum.

A saying often misattributed to Albert Einstein claims there are two ways to lead a life. The first is as though nothing is a miracle, and the second is as though everything is a miracle. Water is entirely natural, hugely abundant and so necessary to life that our cells are bathed in it. Yet it is also so remarkable that, as a physician and scientist, I regard it as little short of miraculous.

Explore further: Structural memory of water persists on picosecond timescale

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41 comments

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RMQ
1.5 / 5 (23) Oct 09, 2015
Albert Einstein did consider that those properties of water, and more, were evidence for the existence of God, as the creator and designer of the universe.
docile
Oct 09, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TechnoCreed
4.9 / 5 (19) Oct 09, 2015
Hey smartass
Albert Einstein did consider that those properties of water, and more, were evidence for the existence of God, as the creator and designer of the universe.
"It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously." _A. Einstein
antigoracle
4.8 / 5 (17) Oct 09, 2015
Albert Einstein did consider that those properties of water, and more, were evidence for the existence of God, as the creator and designer of the universe.

That statement does not hold water.
orti
2.6 / 5 (10) Oct 09, 2015
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." ― Albert Einstein

Sounds like a succinct description of the difference between a theist and atheist.
docile
Oct 09, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TechnoCreed
2.6 / 5 (10) Oct 09, 2015
Do not insult this great man.
"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." ― Albert Einstein

Sounds like a succinct description of the difference between a theist and atheist.

If you cannot find it on his official web page, please shove it fucking deap in your ass.
http://einstein.biz/quotes.php
docile
Oct 09, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
my2cts
3.9 / 5 (11) Oct 09, 2015
Albert Einstein did consider that those properties of water, and more, were evidence for the existence of God, as the creator and designer of the universe.

Have you now become a follower of Neptune?
What happened to that other fellow ?
docile
Oct 10, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
3.3 / 5 (12) Oct 10, 2015
@renTROLL
The delusion never can be a good solution
then why do you actively choose it as a means to define your reality?
A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence to the contrary.
https://en.wikipe...Delusion

you accept a faith (Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence - Wordnik) over actual, material evidence that is proven and validated over and over again via multiple sources...

this means, by definition, your refusal to accept science over your religion makes you a delusional fanatic

we can see WHY you can't recognize science: http://journals.p....0075637

@zephirTROLL
actually, the best attitude is to accept only the evidence that is unbiased and controlled under a tight methodology which refuses to accept unsubstantiated beliefs/comments over substantiated, validated evidence (the scientific method)
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (8) Oct 10, 2015
The universe's most miraculous molecule October 10, 2015, 3:03 pm 3.7 lajib, hewewa
@zephir/docileTROLL

uprating/downrating with a sock army doesn't make you more right, nor does it support your argument... in fact, it actually undermines every argument you make

people learn that the ONLY REASON you are uprated is because you take the time to create multiple accounts and personally uprate yourself while downrating those you hate because their evidence refutes your claims

being downrated by a troll with a sockpuppet only reinforces arguments against said troll, and you've validated and supported that here for YEARS

funny how you still haven't learned that lesson...

i guess it is true: you can cure ignorance with education, BUT... there is no cure for stupid
jsdarkdestruction
4.1 / 5 (9) Oct 10, 2015
The delusion never can be a good solution.

I think we can all agree to that.
In it seek salvation only weak personalities

Something else we agree on.
who can not take responsibility for their life.

What dark secret do you hide that makes you so fanatical accusing anyone not believing in your god is some wicked evil sinner who has no morals who cannot take responsibility for their actions? If you didn't believe in god would you act like that and go rape and kill and pillage and sin? If you need the threat of eternal damnation and punishment to do the right thing and act morally and be a good person you are a pathetic immoral monster who doesn't want to be responsible for his actions and hides behind his god to have all the wrongs hes committed absolved by a higher power taking responsibility for them and making it all OK through his magic.
docile
Oct 11, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
3.1 / 5 (9) Oct 11, 2015
I don't use the sock-puppets,
except that you DO
and you've been proven to (repeatedly, not just by me)
and you've admitted to it already

But HEY, you've never let facts get in the way of your claims before, so why now, right?
(i.e. with no connection to the actual content of my posts)
except that you promote and defend a known fallacious and falsified belief system- something you have YET to be able to provide reputable scientific evidence for (and that spans the aw/daw all the way to cf and your other tired arguments)

you have also never once been able to effectively prove or provide evidence for your claims regarding pluralistic ignorance or against modern scientists re: your above claptrap... but you still post it
(it's called OPINION for a reason)

EVIDENCE is the key word here, zephir
You've produced NONE that is valid or validated, but you want respect for posting your unsubstantiated conjectures?

tell me, why is that?
Captain Stumpy
3.2 / 5 (9) Oct 11, 2015
@zephir cont'd
I can experience wave of downvotes at solely personal basis (i.e. with no connection to the actual content of my posts)
this argument doesn't fly with me at all, because i have uprated your legitimate posts that contain valid and validated scientific evidence

don't play the pity-party cry-baby card here: i have made mistakes, true... perhaps i have not understood your point due to language and translation problems... BUT... i have always typically rated even your posts by merit

problem is, as soon as you go OT with pseudoscience like aw/daw, or you start pontificating with your conjectures without evidence, but claim it is provable with links to other crackpot sites like your personal sites (not reputable science sites), i will automatically downrate it

and you know it's true - that is why you throw your temper tantrums with your sock army (sore spot lashing out)

don't transfer your personal inadequacies onto others because you want attention
docile
Oct 11, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
my2cts
3.9 / 5 (7) Oct 11, 2015
@docile

phundamental forces, laws and constants created whit the creation of the universe to maintain order in it for a certain time?
God is a brilliant inimitable mathematician.

"phun" intended ?
my2cts
4 / 5 (8) Oct 11, 2015
The delusion never can be a good solution.
In it seek salvation only weak personalities
Speak for yourself, it is your brain wash.
who can not take responsibility for their life.

Not many people would so uninhibitedly self destroy.
R E S P E C T !
docile
Oct 11, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
my2cts
4.3 / 5 (11) Oct 11, 2015
Atheist believe that ... with all consequences of this choice in relation to the eternity.

Your threat is in vain.
Atheists know that "eternal life" is just marketing ploy to sell "death" at a comfortable profit.
Captain Stumpy
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 11, 2015
You're inventing the stuffs, because of your personal hostility against
@the idiot zephirTROLL
1- i hold NO emotion towards any of it
2- the point is now and always has been (WRT your aw/daw, cf, etc) the matter of EVIDENCE
you claim i am hostile against the subject... i am not. i am hostile against the promotion of pseudoscience as though it were legitimate science
when and IF you can prove a subject with validated scientific evidence, then i will accept it... the problem is, you don't and can't, and you have a history of pushing lies intentionally (like when i caught you linking a retracted paper as still legitimate even though it had been retracted for at least a decade)

this is your problem: you want everything to be taken as LEGITIMATE when you can't actually prove anything

there are reasons that science has the constraints and controls it has

like i said: just because you WANT it to be true, doesn't mean it IS true
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) Oct 11, 2015
@zephirTROLL cont'd
Why Nobelist Frank Wilczek can speak about aether from the web of MIT at public and me not?
1- opinion/presentation is not the same thing as evidence
2- this is the fundamental research that you want to close down in places like CERN, by the way...
3- MOST IMPORTANTLY... this is research, isn't it? READ THE LAST PARAGRAPH in the description of that video

keeping an open mind is NOT the same thing as accepting something as real without evidence

and THAT is now, has been, and always will be MY ARGUMENT with you
you can't actually provide EVIDENCE... and none of it is validated, whereas the studies i linked to you ARE validated

when you can refute those studies and provide VALIDATED reputable peer reviewed journal studies equivalent to mine, then you can talk trash about pluralistic ignorance or the rest of the BS you post... until then, you post PSEUDOSCIENCE because you can't validate any of it
docile
Oct 12, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
JVK
2 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2015
See also: http://phys.org/n...lix.html

Viruses steal the nutrient energy that biophysically constrains the dynamic changes in DNA.

I brought that fact to the attention of this article's authors and someone at "Science Magazine" replaced my comment with theirs (after the fact)

http://comments.s....1244730
The major antigenic changes of the influenza virus are primarily caused by a single amino acid near the receptor binding site.

Thank God the innate immune system typically allows cell types to adapt to the theft of their energy by viruses, or there would be no way to prevent virus-driven entropic elasticity from leading to genomic entropy in all cell types of all individuals of all living genera before they could reproduce.
JVK
1.9 / 5 (9) Oct 12, 2015
Harvard researchers reported the link from a single nutrient-dependent base pair change and single nutrient-dependent amino acid substitution in the context of mutation-driven evolution.

See: Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model. http://www.ncbi.n...24693353

Excerpt: These two reports (Grossman et al., 2013; Kamberov et al., 2013) tell a new short story of adaptive evolution. The story begins with what was probably a nutrient-dependent variant allele that arose in central China approximately 30,000 years ago. The effect of the allele is adaptive and it is manifested in the context of an effect on sweat, skin, hair, and teeth. In other mammals, like the mouse, the effect on sweat, skin, hair, and teeth is due to an epigenetic effect of nutrients on hormones responsible for the tweaking of immense gene networks that metabolize nutrients to pheromones."

"Re-evolution" the bacterial flagellum links 4 days of this tweaking.
Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2015


See: Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model. http://www.ncbi.n...24693353

Criticisms of the nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled evolutionary model
http://www.ncbi.n...4049134/
JVK
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2015
Quit citing Jones' criticisms. They were published as a joke.

http://phys.org/n...lix.html
Vietvet
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2015
Quit citing Jones' criticisms. They were published as a joke.

http://phys.org/n...lix.html


" Kohl heavily implies, without directly stating, that alternative splicing (the only mechanism he does specifically mention) is responsible for genetic diversity, which is false because splicing does not have the capability to make changes to the genome itself. He explicitly denies the contribution of mutations to genotypic and phenotypic variety, claiming that 'biophysical constraints' prevent 'constraint-breaking mutations' (phrases taken from Nei, 2013) from being involved in evolution entirely (Kohl, 2014a). Mutations are, according to him, only involved in disease and cannot result in adaptive traits, despite the massive amount of evidence contrary to that."
http://www.ncbi.n...4049134/

That is not a joke, you are though.
Vietvet
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 12, 2015
"In addition, Kohl demonstrates a blatant disregard for established nomenclature. For example, he routinely attempts to redefine 'natural selection'. Charles Darwin (1859) defined it on page 61 of On the Origin of Species as the 'principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved'. He often defines it as selection by the organism for nutrients (Kohl, 2013a) instead of the typical selection by the environment (biotic or abiotic) for advantageous phenotypes. Another term coined by Darwin, 'conditions of life', is frequently described by Kohl as 'nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled' (Kohl, 2013b). Seeing that the conditions of life are the external circumstances to which an organism must be adapted, the descriptors 'nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled' are not at all applicable to the environment."
http://www.ncbi.n...4049134/

Valid criticism, not a joke
Vietvet
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 12, 2015
"A multitude of misconceptions and misunderstandings can be seen in his comments on Dr. PZ Myers' blog, Pharyngula (Kohl, 2014b). For example, in comment #125, Kohl says that proteasomes mediate protein folding. Proteasomes do no such thing. They are actually structures whose function is to break down proteins. In that same post, he reiterates his lack of knowledge of natural selection by asking another commenter to 'indicate how a beneficial mutation somehow knew it would be beneficial'."
http://www.ncbi.n...4049134/

@JVK

The joke is on you, you're a laughingstock without a clue.
anonymous_9001
3.9 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2015
Quit citing Jones' criticisms. They were published as a joke.

http://phys.org/n...lix.html


Whatever delusion helps you sleep at night.
JVK
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2015
Role of olfaction in Octopus vulgaris reproduction http://www.scienc...04006...

l...inked Kohl (2013) Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model http://www.ncbi.n...24693353 ...

...via the octopus genome sequencing: The octopus genome and the evolution of cephalopod neural and morphological novelties http://dx.doi.org...14668...

...to what is known to serious scientists about the role of microRNAs, adhesion proteins, and supercoiled DNA that protects organized genomes from virus-driven genomic entropy manifested in pathology.

What is known about biophysically constrained protein folding and DNA repair was placed into the context of personalized medicine in Distinct E-cadherin-based complexes regulate cell behaviour through miRNA processing or Src and p120 catenin activity http://dx.doi.org.../ncb3227
Returners
2 / 5 (8) Oct 12, 2015
Atheist believe that ... with all consequences of this choice in relation to the eternity.

Your threat is in vain.
Atheists know that "eternal life" is just marketing ploy to sell "death" at a comfortable profit.


"The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life."

It's a gift. It doesn't cost money.

It's a shame that Einstein was an agnostic.

Maybe if he used an appropriate number of variables in his "thought experiments" he'd have reached a different, more correct conclusion.

"Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind they both fall in the ditch."
Returners
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2015
False apostles, and false churches are a dime a dozen.

Jesus said so really.

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and do not what I say?"

"Many shall say in that day, 'Lord, we did all these good things in your name (lists them),' and I will say Depart from me all you workers of iniquity, I never knew you." (rough paraphrase of Jesus, I'll look it up later.

What's he talking about?

False apostles who used his name to profit.

"Your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money." - Simon Peter

This speak to a man who was a sorcerer and wanted to buy the power to amaze other people.

The Old Testament prophet Elisha performed a miracle (well God did, not him,) but he told the King something simple, go dip in Jordan seven times. The king is like "this is a waste of time," but his servant convinced him and he was healed. So he offers Elisha a huge offering of valuables, and the Prophet turned him down....
Returners
2.1 / 5 (7) Oct 12, 2015
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem."

So Paul is teaching about true salvation, and by analogy he uses a vine, which represents Jesus, and branches, which represent believers.

He says the Jews are the natural branches, but because of their unbelief they were cut off.
The Gentiles, at least those who believe, are grafted into the vine.
Paul warns that if the natural branches could be cut off, then take heed so that you aren't likewise cut off.
Further, for you Jew Hating Nazis on here, and for any Jews themselves more importantly, Paul writes that GOD IS ABLE TO GRAFT THEM IN AGAIN.

"I know your works, patience, and labor, and how you cannot stand those who are evil, and have tried them which say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars: and have borne and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored and not fainted...," then he rebukes the person he's just commended for "leaving their first love".

The real Jesus didn't "play church".
TechnoCreed
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 13, 2015
Since I could not contain my frustration, I think it must be time to take a time out. I have no intention to trash this place but somehow, on my last comment above, I did exactly that. I will be humble ask for forgiveness to orti and everybody else that were offended by it.

The problem here is not the people how exercise their freedom of expression. The real problem is the lax attitude that 'Science X' adopted on their website; to bad for them if contributors are divesting that is what happens when you are not giving the level of quality that should be expected. Please take all obscenities and insanities off this site.
JVK
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 13, 2015
ΔN-TRPV1: A Molecular Co-detector of Body Temperature and Osmotic Stress http://dx.doi.org...5.08.061

Have theorists explained how our "co-detector" evolved from a co-detector in microbes? To my knowledge "co-detection" must now be placed into the context of co-detection of nutrients and water and population density before linking atoms to ecosystems in any accurate representation of what is known to serious scientists about biologically-based cause and effect.

I think that is why we will see "evolution" removed from the text representations of all serious scientists as it is replaced by the term "co-evolution" which links ecological variation to ecological adaptation without the pseudoscientific nonsense of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. Eventually, everyone will understand the difference between claims about evolution and ecological speciation.

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NEO-DARWINIAN EVOLUTION!
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Oct 14, 2015
Here is what that wondrous molecule is going to do to us:

http://choices.cl...eme-cuts
SuperThunder
2.6 / 5 (5) Oct 16, 2015
TechnoCreed!

It's me, Super Thunder Rocket Jockey. I signed back up to this site (a hellish experience if you ever delete your account), then had to hunt down this article again (a hellish experience since phys.org shuffles and clusterfunks everything every time you hit reload) just to beg you to stay.

Please stay.
JVK
3 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2015
I missed all the stuff about Paul, Jesus, and Jews in my chemistry and physics courses.


Obviously, you were not taught by anyone like Eshel Ben-Jacob.

Bacterial self-organization: co-enhancement of complexification and adaptability in a dynamic environment http://rsta.royal...abstract

Learning from Bacteria about Natural Information Processing http://star.tau.a...sing.pdf

Excerpt: "Focusing on the energy, matter, and thermodynamic imbalances provided by the environment, Schrodinger proposed that life required the consumption of negative entropy, that is, the use of thermodynamic imbalances in the environment. From the perspective of thermodynamics, each bacterium can be viewed as a complex system that is composed of an "engine" that uses imbalances in the environment to do work, and a "machine" that uses this energy..."

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