Water Molecule Structure

Water molecules are polar, with a partial positive charge and a partial negative charge.

All living things require water. The behavior of a water molecule is determined by its structure. Water consists of two hydrogen atoms covalently bonded to one oxygen atom. It is a polar molecule because it has oppositely charged sides. One side of the water molecule has a weak positive charge while the other side has a weak negative charge. The covalent bonds (shared electrons) between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms produce a molecule that has a tetrahedral, or triangular pyramid, shape. A covalent bond is a chemical bond that forms when atoms share electrons. The oxygen side attracts electrons to a greater degree than the hydrogen side, which draws electrons away from the hydrogen atoms. This leaves each side with a partial charge (positive on the hydrogen side, negative on the oxygen side). Like two bar magnets, whose oppositely charged ends are attracted to one another, two water molecules are attracted in a similar way.

As a polar molecule, water does not interact well with any nonpolar molecule, whose sides carry equal or no electrical charges. Water molecules cannot easily form hydrogen bonds with nonpolar molecules. This means that nonpolar molecules do not dissolve well in polar solvents, such as water, acetic acid, and ethanol. Lipids—such as fats, steroids, and oils—are generally not water-soluble. This is why a drop of oil falling onto a wet surface fans out and forms a colorful pattern. Nonpolar substances need to be dissolved using other nonpolar solvents, such as diethyl ether and turpentine.

Charged Poles of a Water Molecule

A water molecule is composed of one oxygen atom bonded to two hydrogen atoms. The polarity of the molecule comes from the partial positive charge of the hydrogen atoms, represented by δ+, or delta positive, and the partial negative charge, represented by δ-, or delta negative, of the oxygen atom.
Inside cells and the bodies of living organisms, the polar nature of water allows it to act as a near-universal solvent, dissolving many different materials that are important to life. Salts, gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide, and essential minerals such as calcium and potassium travel around the cells of an organism as water moves. Water also acts as a reactant and product of many chemical reactions. For example, photosynthesis results in water molecules being broken apart to form free oxygen atoms, with the hydrogen atoms eventually becoming part of glucose. Many enzyme-assisted reactions, including the synthesis and hydrolysis (breaking apart) of biological molecules, require the addition or removal of water to proceed. Examples include the formation and breakdown of adenosine triphosphate (ATP, the cell's primary energy currency), proteins, and complex carbohydrates.