(H2O) is a polar inorganic compound that is at room temperature a tasteless and odorless liquid, nearly colorless with a hint of blue. This simplest hydrogen chalcogenide is by far the most studied chemical compound and is described as the “universal solvent” for its ability to dissolve many substances. This allows it to be the “solvent of life”.It is the only common substance to exist as a solid, liquid, and gas in nature.[
1. Cohesion and adhesion
Dew drops adhering to a spider web
Water molecules stay close to each other (cohesion), due to the collective action of hydrogen bonds between water molecules. These hydrogen bonds are constantly breaking, with new bonds being formed with different water molecules; but at any given time in a sample of liquid water, a large portion of the molecules are held together by such bonds.
Water also has high adhesion properties because of its polar nature. On extremely clean/smooth glass the water may form a thin film because the molecular forces between glass and water molecules (adhesive forces) are stronger than the cohesive forces. In biological cells and organelles, water is in contact with membrane and protein surfaces that are hydrophilic; that is, surfaces that have a strong attraction to water. Irving Langmuir observed a strong repulsive force between hydrophilic surfaces. To dehydrate hydrophilic surfaces—to remove the strongly held layers of water of hydration—requires doing substantial work against these forces, called hydration forces. These forces are very large but decrease rapidly over a nanometer or less. They are important in biology, particularly when cells are dehydrated by exposure to dry atmospheres or to extracellular freezing.
2. Capillary action
Due to an interplay of the forces of adhesion and surface tension, water exhibits capillary action whereby water rises into a narrow tube against the force of gravity. Water adheres to the inside wall of the tube and surface tension tends to straighten the surface causing a surface rise and more water is pulled up through cohesion. The process continues as the water flows up the tube until there is enough water such that gravity balances the adhesive force.
Surface tension and capillary action are important in biology. For example, when water is carried through xylem up stems in plants, the strong intermolecular attractions (cohesion) hold the water column together and adhesive properties maintain the water attachment to the xylem and prevent tension rupture caused by transpiration pull.
Main article: Quantum tunneling of water
The quantum tunneling dynamics in water was reported as early as 1992. At that time it was known that there are motions which destroy and regenerate the weak hydrogen bond by internal rotations of the substituent water monomers. On 18 March 2016, it was reported that the hydrogen bond can be broken by quantum tunneling in the water hexamer. Unlike previously reported tunneling motions in water, this involved the concerted breaking of two hydrogen bonds. Later in the same year, the discovery of the quantum tunneling of water molecules was reported
Pure water has the concentration of hydroxide ions (OH−
) equal to that of the hydronium (H
) or hydrogen (H+
) ions, which gives pH of 7 at 298 K. In practice, pure water is very difficult to produce. Water left exposed to air for any length of time will dissolve carbon dioxide, forming a dilute solution of carbonic acid, with a limiting pH of about 5.7. As cloud droplets form in the atmosphere and as raindrops fall through the air minor amounts of CO
2 are absorbed, and thus most rain is slightly acidic. If high amounts of nitrogen and sulfur oxides are present in the air, they too will dissolve into the cloud and rain drops, producing acid rain.
Pure water containing no exogenous ions is an excellent insulator, but not even “deionized” water is completely free of ions. Water undergoes auto-ionization in the liquid state, when two water molecules form one hydroxide anion (OH−
) and one hydronium cation (H
Because water is such a good solvent, it almost always has some solute dissolved in it, often a salt. If water has even a tiny amount of such an impurity, then it can conduct electricity far more readily.
It is known that the theoretical maximum electrical resistivity for water is approximately 18.2 MΩ·cm (182 kΩ·m) at 25 °C. This figure agrees well with what is typically seen on reverse osmosis, ultra-filtered and deionized ultra-pure water systems used, for instance, in semiconductor manufacturing plants. A salt or acid contaminant level exceeding even 100 parts per trillion (ppt) in otherwise ultra-pure water begins to noticeably lower its resistivity by up to several kΩ·m.
In pure water, sensitive equipment can detect a very slight electrical conductivity of 0.05501 ± 0.0001 µS/cm at 25.00 °C. Water can also be electrolyzed into oxygen and hydrogen gases but in the absence of dissolved ions this is a very slow process, as very little current is conducted. In ice, the primary charge carriers are protons (see proton conductor). Ice was previously thought to have a small but measurable conductivity of 1×10−10 S cm−1, but this conductivity is now thought to be almost entirely from surface defects, and without those, ice is an insulator with an immeasurably small conductivity.