Dihydrogen Monoxide: It’s Just Water, Stupid!

Dihydrogen Monoxide illustration

Dihydrogen monoxide is a dangerous compound. Yeah, hilarious. It’s just water, and if you take the time to realize the nomenclature spells out the same thing as H20 you’ll see that you should feel foolish if you’ve believed the memes. But you weren’t fooled. Right?


Two hydrogens, one oxygen. It’s that simple.

Water is among the most abundant substances on Earth, and it plays one of the biggest roles in the growth and development of life. Human cells are around 60% water. This calls two things into question:

  1. Why is water so abundant?
  2. Why is it crucial for life to exist?

Number one is easy to answer: hydrogen is the most common element in the universe. Hydrogen is a single proton and a single electron. Its most common state is gaseous, and it’s all over the universe. It is also good at sticking to other substances, which is why we see comets that contain so much ice. Most substances are good at getting “wet.”

Image courtesy of physics.appstate.edu
Image courtesy of physics.appstate.edu

Number two gets into one of the most important properties of water. It is a solvent for materials that are important to life. It’s not just your ordinary molecule, and that makes water unusual in more ways than one. H20 has two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom, and instead of being a linear structure (all in a straight line), it forms a V-shape that puts the hydrogens at one end and the oxygen at the other. The hydrogens have a slight positive charge while the oxygen has a slight negative charge.  This has three major effects on the properties of water:

  • Surface tension. Since water is a polar molecule, it strongly “sticks” to itself. It’s partially responsible for the bubbles in your soda or beer. This is an important property of water for life at the cellular level.
  • Triple point. There are temperatures where water can exist in all three phases: solid, liquid and gas. The one we see in our daily lives is 273.16 Kelvins (around 0 °C, 32 °F). It’s the reason you see water vapor when you open the freezer door and why ice eventually evaporates.
  • Expanding when it is frozen and shrinking when it warms up. This is why ice cubes float in water and why freezing conditions are bad for roads. As water freezes it forms lattices, and these lattices form crystals.

Since water acts as a solvent for so many different substances, it can have vastly different electroconductive properties, depending on what is dissolved into it. Pure H20 is not a conductor; it actually act as an insulator. A conductor needs to be able to release free electrons in order to produce electrical current; H20’s electrons are busy forming bonds and being cohesive with nearby H20’s molecules. Remember what I said about water molecules being polar? When you dissolve salts (compounds of a metal and a non-metal)into water, the metals and non-metals separate. The metals are what actually produce the conductivity in the water.

The building blocks for life (various carbon-based compounds, minerals, etc.) won’t do anything in piles sitting next to each other, but stirred together in water, you have chemically active materials whose molecules move about freely and readily react with other molecules.

Dihydrogen monoxide is no poison. You might say, in a way, that water is life. Love that precious water!

Related Links:





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s