Hidemitsu Hayashi, M.D.
of water molecules
a water molecule, two hydrogen atoms are covalently bonded to
the oxygen atom. But because the oxygen atom is larger than
the hydrogen's, its attraction for the hydrogen's electrons
is correspondingly greater so the electrons are drawn closer
into the shell of the larger oxygen atom and away from the hydrogen
shells. This means that although the water molecule as a whole
is stable, the greater mass of the oxygen nucleus tends to draw
in all the electrons in the molecule including the shared hydrogen
electrons giving the oxygen portion of the molecule a slight
The shells of the hydrogen atoms, because their electrons
are closer to the oxygen, take on a small electropositive charge.
This means water molecules have a tendency to form weak bonds
with water molecules because the oxygen end of the molecule
is negative and the hydrogen ends are positive.
hydrogen atom, while remaining covalently bonded to the oxygen
of its own molecule, can form a weak bond with the oxygen of
another molecule. Similarly, the oxygen end of a molecule can
form a weak attachment with the hydrogen ends of other molecules.
Because water molecules have this polarity, water is a continuous
weak bonds play a crucial role in stabilizing the shape of many
of the large molecules found in living matter. Because these
bonds are weak, they are readily broken and re-formed during
normal physiological reactions. The disassembly and re-arrangement
of such weak bonds is in essence the chemistry of life.
To illustrate water's ability to break down other
substances, consider the simple example of putting a small amount
of table salt in a glass of tap water. With dry salt (NaCl)
the attraction between the electropositive sodium (Na+) and
electronegative chlorine (Cl-) atoms of salt is very strong
until it is placed in water. After salt is placed in water,
the attraction of the electronegative oxygen of the water molecule
for the positively charged sodium ions, and the similar attraction
of the electropositive hydrogen ends of the water molecule for
the negatively charged chloride ions, are greater than the mutual
attraction between the outnumbered Na+ and Cl- ions. In water
the ionic bonds of the sodium chloride molecule are broken easily
because of the competitive action of the numerous water molecules.
we can see from this simple example, even the delicate configuration
of individual water molecules enables them to break relatively
stronger bonds by converging on them. This is why we call water
the universal solvent. It is a natural solution that breaks
the bonds of larger, more complex molecules. This is the chemistry
of life on earth, in water and on land.
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