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National Science Foundation
OVERVIEW >> Attractive Forces
Screenshot image from flash movie of Water Molecules.

Click on the image above to see the dynamic interactions of water molecules.
Requires: FLASH Player

Credit: Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

In general, the odd behaviors of H2O are reasonably understood. In large part, scientists attribute the unique properties of water to the special chemical linkages it forms called “hydrogen bonds”—interactions between the H’s and the O’s of neighboring H2O molecules. What isn't clear however, are the fine details of how these bonds form and what they look like in various situations, such as in the presence of chemicals or on surfaces. That’s no easy task because hydrogen bonds are chemical contortionists: highly dynamic, forming linkages that vary in strength and length. And so, even though water influences everything—from how proteins fold inside cells to the weathering of seaside rocks—getting at the fundamentals of its many different interactions is very difficult.

However, water research received a boost when scientists armed with a battery of powerful new tools and perspectives began “taking a fresh look at old questions,” according to Katherine Covert, a program officer in NSF's Division of Chemistry. Still she admits, “We are nowhere near understanding how water works all of the time in every environment.”

Recently, scientists provided some of the most detailed views of water molecules to date. Science magazine took notice, recognizing the collective work of several research teams—all but one of which were NSF- supported—on water’s structure and chemical behavior as a top-10 breakthrough of 2004. And although the results have to be verified, some of them challenge conventional wisdom. Indeed, 2004’s discoveries sparked a great deal of interest and healthy debate among scientists. If these results “hold water,” it could change thinking in disciplines as diverse as geoscience, atmospheric chemistry and even biology.

Click on the following links to learn more about water.
United States Geological Survey
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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A Special Report The Chemistry of Water