Water: Structure and Properties


Water is a major component of all living things. It is anomalous in many of its physical and chemical properties. Some are essential for life while others have profound effects on the size and shape of living organisms, how they work, and the constraints within which they must operate. Many of water's basic physical properties can now be explained, at least semiquantitatively, in molecular and structural terms, although in spite of intense study it remains incompletely understood.

Keywords: hydrogen bonds; hydrophobicity; hydration; solvation; polarity; hydrophilicity

Figure 1.

Structure of water. (a) Definition of key lengths and angles. (b) Model of water. (c) Structure of Ice I. (d) Schematic of H bonding structure in liquid water, and in presence of an apolar solute. (e) Schematic of H bonding structure around a positively charged ion of polar atom.

Figure 2.

Radial distribution functions (rdf) of Ice I (bottom), pure water (middle), and water around a hydrophobic solute (top). Lines, measured; circles, computer simulation.

Figure 3.

Hydrogen bond angle probability distribution for Ice I and pure water (top), and for water around solutes (bottom).

Figure 4.

Solubilities of selected solutes in water, expressed as log10 of the solubility ratio between water and the apolar solvent cyclohexane.


Further Reading

Eisenberg D and Kauzmann W (1969) The Structure and Properties of Water. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gerstein M and Levitt M (1998) Simulating water and the molecules of life. Scientific American 279: 100–105.

Henderson LJ (1913) The Fitness of the Environment: An Inquiry in to the Biological Significance of the Properties of Matter. New York: Macmillan.

Rahman A and Stillinger F (1971) Molecular dynamics study of liquid water. Journal of Chemical Physics 55: 3336–3359.

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Sharp, Kim A(Apr 2001) Water: Structure and Properties. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003116]