Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Water: A Maverick and a Radical among Compounds?

It is the one of the most abundant substance on Earth, and yet it is one of the least understood. Are we ignoring the secrets behind water at our own peril?

By: Vanessa Uy

Though most people choose to remain ignorant about the whimsically willful ways of water despite of its primary importance in their lives. A number of wars of “recent” history are full of accounts vehemently denying that their war is about water. And instead blame abstract concepts like sovereignty disputes because a conflict over water has been poorly blessed with a perception of “unsexiness” for much of history. But nonetheless, we can never deny the ever-varied usefulness of water.

Relatively recent advances in the science of chemistry had only begun to explain the radical and maverick properties of water. Water molecules are bound together in ways unlike those of any other compound; because of this water possesses physical and chemical properties that can only be described as unique and paradoxical.

Water is one of those rare substances that are heavier in their liquid state than in their solid form. This is the reason why ice floats. As a liquid, water can rise uphill despite of the force of gravity – most of us know this as capillary action. Water is also very benign that more than a myriad forms of life can thrive within it – and yet so corrosive that, given enough time, water will disintegrate most of the metals found on the Periodic Table. It can also change its state with uncanny ease – sometimes existing simultaneously as a solid (ice), liquid (water), and a gas (water vapor) around the same body of water. But paradoxically, water must either yield or absorb tremendous amounts of energy to achieve these state transformations. Thus making water a very good coolant due to its very high heat capacity.

This is just a “starter list” of what makes water a radical and a maverick among the chemical compounds found on our planet. Our cheap but powerful “modern” computers are very dependent on water for their production. So does the cars, and the gasoline being extracted from crude oil – all of these processes require water. And yet paradoxically, millions of our poorer brethren are dying every year because they are denied access to safe drinking water. While we in affluent nations are wasting it like its out of fashion. Kind of unfair isn’t it?

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