What is the most valuable substance in the world? You might be thinking of gold or silver. Maybe you thought about platinum. Diamonds and precious gems are very valuable as well. But all those materials are not as valuable as water. You might be thinking, how can that be right? Water is one of the least expensive materials on planet Earth and one of the easiest to get. In fact, about 70% of the entire globe is covered in water. The human body is composed of about 65% water. How can water be so valuable if there is so much of it? Water is so valuable because without water life could not exist. Humans, plants, and animals can live without gold. We can live without platinum, diamonds, or gems. But we can’t live without water. In the beginning of Creation, the Bible explains that water was one of the first substances God created (read Genesis 1:2). In this issue of Discovery we will explore the wonderful ways water works.
Ice, Steam, & Liquid
Water is a substance formed by two elements: hydrogen and oxygen. The chemical name for water is H2O, because a water molecule is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Water is one of the few substances on Earth that is found commonly in all three forms: solid, liquid, and gas. If you have ever heated a teapot of water on a stove and listened for it to whistle, you were involved in turning liquid water into its gas form of steam. Water turns into its solid form of ice when it reaches the freezing temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. When water freezes, unlike most other liquids, it expands. You might have seen this happen. If you fill a milk jug completely with water and try to freeze it, do you know what happens? The water expands and bursts the jug. Water can expand up to 9% of its liquid volume. When it expands, it becomes less dense which makes it float on top of liquid water. Most substances, when they get colder, do not expand, they contract and become denser.
This may not sound like a big deal, but the fact that water expands and floats is one reason animals that live in lakes, ponds, and streams are able to stay alive. When a lake freezes over, the ice freezes on the top of the lake. If it dropped to the bottom, it would force the fish and other animals to the top and the entire lake would freeze. Instead, the ice on the top acts as a form of insulation and keeps the water beneath the ice from freezing.
Water Is Polar
You might wonder what the word “polar” means. A substance that is polar is one that has a positive charge on one side of the molecule and a negative charge on the other. If you have ever played with magnets, you will understand this. Magnets are polar. That means if you have two magnets, and flip them so that one side is the negative and the other is positive, they will attract. Opposite poles attract. If you flip the magnets so that both of them are on their positive side, they will push away from each other. You have probably seen this in magnets, but you might not have known that water repulses and attracts in a similar way. Because water is polarized, it can form connections with many other substances and chemicals. That is why water can bond with and dissolve so many other substances, and why it is so effective when used as a cleaning agent. In fact, water can dissolve more substances than any other substance on Earth. This allows us to be able to drink coffee or sweet tea. It also allows our bodies to absorb medicines and vitamins that we need to live. Have you ever wondered how you can swallow a pill, but somehow the medicine in that pill gets distributed throughout your whole body? That is because the water in your body dissolves the medicine and sends it where it needs to go.
Water Is Sticky
You are probably thinking that water is not sticky. Most of us would say it is the opposite of sticky. What you might not know, however, is that water sticks to itself with a strong bond. In chemistry, the word “cohesion” describes the attraction between molecules of the same substance. Water molecules have a strong cohesion, meaning they cling tightly to each other. You can see this in a number of ways. First, maybe you have been to a pond or stream and seen certain types of bugs “walking” on water. They can stay on the surface of the water because the water molecules cling tightly to each other and form a “hard” surface that the bugs skate across. Of course, the force is not so strong that you could walk on it. That would be a miracle. You might remember the story of Jesus walking on water and Peter briefly joining Him (Matthew 14:22-36). Those are the only two people who have ever walked on water, but bugs do it all the time. One good way to see this feature of water is to fill a clear glass to the brim. Then, slowly put a little more water into the glass. If you do it just right, you will see that the water rises above the edge of the glass, so that the glass is not holding the water above its edge. The “sticky” water molecules are clinging to each other and holding the water together. Also, just for your information, when water forms a bubble-like surface on the top of a glass like that, the surface is called its meniscus.
Water’s cohesion is also responsible for water forming drops and falling from the sky as rain. If you have ever been sitting in a car while it was raining, maybe you watched the raindrops trickle down the glass. If so, you have seen how the smaller drops connect and form bigger ones on the way down. The cohesion of water allows it to do some very special things. It allows water to “defy” gravity and move upward through tubes. What good is that? Well, plants need water to survive. They get this water from the ground, but they need to move it to their highest leaves and branches. There is a huge redwood known as Hyperion. It is the tallest living tree in the world and is just over 380 feet high. How can water travel up, toward the sky, against gravity, 380 feet to the highest branches? Several forces are at work, but they all rest on the cohesion of water.
There are many more aspects of water that make it perfect for life to exist on Earth. Isn’t it interesting that God knew exactly what qualities water would need in order for us to survive? Looking at “plain old water” helps us better appreciate God’s power and knowledge.
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
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