Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bad Chemistry: Hoisted by their own petards!

The chemistry of water is one of the most miraculous things in the universe. It's an example of how interesting and wondrous the world becomes the more you study science. Something that is everywhere that is taken for granted in fact has unique properties. This is why Jesuits insist on their members study something other than theology...the best way to understand anything divine is by seeing a pattern here on earth.

Water actually expands when solid, something that makes life on earth possible. The reason for this is actually visible at the molecular level. The molecules of H20 form into a tetrahedral arrangement when it crystalizes and solidifies (which for those of us that are gamers, looks like a 4-sided die, one of the Five Platonic Solids), and there's no way to do this without making the hydrogens of one atom attract the oxygen charge of a neighbor, so what happens is that there's no way to really tightly squeeze water molecules together when it crystalizes, and voila! It actually expands.

This tiny detail of the molecules of water is something that is really important on a much grander scale. If glaciers didn't float, they'd sink to the bottom, and very soon the entire ocean would be frozen over. It's a polar molecule, with a positive charge on the hydrogens and negative charge on the oxygen. Because of the charge, water can't move things with covalent bonds, so it means that we don't dissolve in our own cell fluids.

Because water has a high specificity of heat, it can take in more heat than any other substance (except ammonia, intriguingly) and is used to warm up regions near currents, like Norway. Because of the heat storage ability, the Mediterranean is the lush and wonderful part of the world that it is today.

Water is also a universal solvent, and can dissolve nearly anything - which is why it's great for cleaning, as it dissolves things into itself. Many people know that the is actually dissolved gold in seawater.

Here's a great website that details some of the more intriguing water properties.

Water is an incredible substance, and may be the one thing I'd ever point towards to show a genius pattern or designer to the universe.

There is only one occasion where I would ever participate in the political process, and that is to support education, especially science education.

This blog post by Thomas Sowell talks about how some friend of his got some college students to sign off in a protest against "dihydromonoxide."

A woman with a petition went among the crowds attending a state fair, asking people to sign her petition demanding the banning of dihydroxymonoxide. She said it was in our lakes and streams, and now it was in our sweat and urine and tears.

She collected hundreds of signatures to ban dihydroxymonoxide — a fancy chemical name for water. A couple of comedians were behind this ploy. But there is nothing funny about its implications. It is one of the grim and dangerous signs of our times.

There certainly is a valid lesson here about how people instinctively support causes without looking deeply at what's going on.


Dihydroxymonoxide would be two merged hydroxyls (namely, an oxygen and hydrogen atom bonded covalently) that are somehow connected to a single oxygen atom. Dihydroxymonoxide doesn't exist and couldn't exist!

The chemical term for water is dihydrogen monoxide.

By the way, the joke would have been a lot more nerdy and obscure if they used the IUPAC (international union of pure and applied chemistry) nomenclature for water, oxidane.

The best part of all this is that the columnist uses an obvious scientific illiteracy - dihydroxymonoxide - to try to scare us into thinking that education at the university level is "bad" and teaches us to be suckers.

The only thing that really bugs me is to slam learning, science and education. It's great to see supposed pranksters slamming education get hoisted by their own petards.

No comments:

Post a Comment