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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the properties of water that are critical to maintaining life
  • Explain why water is an excellent solvent
  • Provide examples of water’s cohesive and adhesive properties
  • Discuss the role of acids, bases, and buffers in homeostasis

Why do scientists spend time looking for water on other planets? Why is water so important? It is because water is essential to life as we know it. Water is one of the more abundant molecules and the one most critical to life on Earth. Approximately 60–70 percent of the human body is made up of water. Without it, life as we know it simply would not exist.

The polarity of the water molecule and its resulting hydrogen bonding make water a unique substance with special properties that are intimately tied to the processes of life. Life originally evolved in a watery environment, and most of an organism’s cellular chemistry and metabolism occur inside the watery contents of the cell’s cytoplasm. Special properties of water are its high heat capacity and heat of vaporization, its ability to dissolve polar molecules, its cohesive and adhesive properties, and its dissociation into ions that leads to the generation of pH. Understanding these characteristics of water helps to elucidate its importance in maintaining life.

Water’s polarity

One of water’s important properties is that it is composed of polar molecules: the hydrogen and oxygen within water molecules (H 2 O) form polar covalent bonds. While there is no net charge to a water molecule, the polarity of water creates a slightly positive charge on hydrogen and a slightly negative charge on oxygen, contributing to water’s properties of attraction. Water’s charges are generated because oxygen is more electronegative than hydrogen, making it more likely that a shared electron would be found near the oxygen nucleus than the hydrogen nucleus, thus generating the partial negative charge near the oxygen.

As a result of water’s polarity, each water molecule attracts other water molecules because of the opposite charges between water molecules, forming hydrogen bonds. Water also attracts or is attracted to other polar molecules and ions. A polar substance that interacts readily with or dissolves in water is referred to as hydrophilic    (hydro- = “water”; -philic = “loving”). In contrast, non-polar molecules such as oils and fats do not interact well with water, as shown in [link] and separate from it rather than dissolve in it, as we see in salad dressings containing oil and vinegar (an acidic water solution). These nonpolar compounds are called hydrophobic    (hydro- = “water”; -phobic = “fearing”).

Image shows oil droplets floating in water. The oil droplets act like prisms that bend the light into all the colors of the rainbow.
Oil and water do not mix. As this macro image of oil and water shows, oil does not dissolve in water but forms droplets instead. This is due to it being a nonpolar compound. (credit: Gautam Dogra).

Water’s states: gas, liquid, and solid

The formation of hydrogen bonds is an important quality of the liquid water that is crucial to life as we know it. As water molecules make hydrogen bonds with each other, water takes on some unique chemical characteristics compared to other liquids and, since living things have a high water content, understanding these chemical features is key to understanding life. In liquid water, hydrogen bonds are constantly formed and broken as the water molecules slide past each other. The breaking of these bonds is caused by the motion (kinetic energy) of the water molecules due to the heat contained in the system. When the heat is raised as water is boiled, the higher kinetic energy of the water molecules causes the hydrogen bonds to break completely and allows water molecules to escape into the air as gas (steam or water vapor). On the other hand, when the temperature of water is reduced and water freezes, the water molecules form a crystalline structure maintained by hydrogen bonding (there is not enough energy to break the hydrogen bonds) that makes ice less dense than liquid water, a phenomenon not seen in the solidification of other liquids.

Questions & Answers

Is the "growth and maintenance phase" in a cell's life cycle when cell division is about to occur
Somto Reply
what is the common name of Basidiomycetes
Ogechukwu Reply
الاجزاء النباتية لابد من تعقيمها قبل زراعتها في القوارير
whats this?
do you speak arabic?!
what are bio elements
Shahzad Reply
which are present In Body And such elements Have Great role in our Body there are 16 bio elements that maintains human Body but on The basis of amount There are 6 bio elements present in Concen. of 99% and More Valuable And Highly Concen. element is Oxygent with 65 %
how je pollution brought about
Lamina Reply
how je pollution brouhgt about
non is pollution brouhgt about
describe the anatomy of cell division
Ivanovic Reply
Complex traits such as height result from 
Ruben Reply
what is the difference between chloroplasts and mitochondria
Nkalubo Reply
chloroplast in plants and bacterial cell ; mitochondria in animal cells
Diagram of a living cell
Eliza Reply
what is cell
A cell is the smallest basic unit of life.
what's biology
Ogochukwu Reply
this is da study of living and non-living thing in an eco-system
it is the study of living and non living organism in the ecology
I agree with you dat biology is d study of living nd nonliving features
why do plants store carbohydrates in form of starch and not glucose?
Nutty Reply
Describe the structure of starch?
wat is diffusion
water is life!.. Discuss?
Nutty Reply
why do plants store carbohydrates in form if starch not glucose!
study of living thing
Dennis Reply
what is beyond a liveing cell
what is biology
Gabriel Reply
d study of living nd non living thing
what is vasectomy
Evelyn Reply
The surgical removal of d spermduct

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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