Water is: everywhere, common place, tasteless, odourless, boring… not. We as humans (especially in the West) take water for granted. It covers more than 70% of the Earth’s surface; makes up nearly two-thirds of our bodies; is needed for survival. All of these things people are familiar with but there is so much more going on with good ‘ole H2O; some of which are downright bizarre and eludes scientific explanation.

To start with, water can exist in three different states (gas, liquid, and solid) at the same time, at least for a short time. Zero degrees Celsius is defined as the triple point of water. At this temperature, water is changing from solid to liquid or vice versa. Water is the only substance known to exist in all three phases naturally on Earth. And if you think that there are only three different phases of water, you would be incorrect. Researchers have discovered that there are at least 5 different phases of liquid water and 14 different phases of ice that we know of right now.

Polarity – Water is highly attracted to other polar (having two distinct parts or directions) molecules. Water has two distinctive forms of attraction; cohesion and adhesion. Cohesion is a water molecule’s attraction to other water molecules. The hydrogen bonds in water hold other water molecules together thus producing surface tension. This surface tension is what allows insects, such as water striders, the ability to walk on water. Adhesion is the attraction between the water molecules and a different surface. Water is adhesive to any molecule that it can form a hydrogen bond with. When you place a narrow tube into water, the water will rise up in the tube because of the adhesiveness to the glass. This is referred to as capillary action.

Mpemba Effect – This interesting and perplexing effect is when hot water freezes faster than cold water when they are exposed to the same sub-zero temperatures. The effect is not wholly understood but scientists think that it may have something to do with convection somehow speeding up the freezing process. This can be best illustrated when you throw boiling water into the very cold air. (We are talking well below zero Celsius. The day that we tried this experiment, the outside temperature was -35 degrees Celsius.) If you want to see this, and us, in action, you can visit our video gallery here: https://decoscience.ca/video-gallery/ and see us playing around. In this video, you can see that less than boiling temperatures have a completely different result. Short story is, we got rain not snow.

Ice is Slippery – Such shocking statement, I know, but the reason behind this fact has been argued about for years. Scientists agree that there is a very thin layer of liquid water on the surface of ice but there is no consensus as to why this happens to ice unlike most other solids. Is it the act of sliding upon the ice that melts it or is that layer of water there even before the slidee ever got there? This latter hypothesis surmises that somehow, this thin layer of water is caused by the inherent movement of the surface molecules.

Levitation – The wonder of the levitating drop of water is caused when said drop lands on a surface that is much hotter than its boiling point. The drop will sputter and dance around the surface for a few seconds. This is called the Leidenfrost effect and is caused when the bottom layer of the drop vapourizes and the gaseous water molecules have no place to escape to. This causes an insulating layer between the drop and the hot surface below.

Like No Other – Everyone has heard about no two snowflakes being the same and this is true but why? A snowflake starts as a simple hexagonal crystal and as it falls to Earth it goes through different temperatures, humidity levels, and air pressures. These are enough varying influences to the crystal formation to make no two alike. What is the very coolest part about this process is that each of the six arms of a snowflake will develop in the same way. Next time it snows (hopefully, this will be a number of months away), take note of the multitude of shapes.

These are only a few of the more interesting properties of water and there are a slew of other odd things that can be written about it. Scientists have even recently made a discovery that water has more than one type of molecule. (Read this article for more information: https://www.sciencealert.com/quantum-molecular-para-isomer-water-greater-reactivity-than-ortho-isomer ) There has also been some speculation about water having a “memory” but this has been met with opposition from the general science community but who knows? Science makes new discoveries every day and old ideas are often replaced with new ones. Water is weird enough to provide researchers with a wealth of study.

–Janice Willson

A TedTalks video on the weirdness of water:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OLFwkfPxCg

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Properties_of_water

Photo Source: the author

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