A MIRACLE MOLECULE: WATER

A liquid specifically chosen for life - "water" - covers two-thirds of our earth. The bodies of all living beings on the earth are formed of this very special liquid at a ratio ranging between 50%-95%. From bacteria living in springs with temperatures close to the boiling point of water, to some special mosses on melting glaciers, life is present everywhere where there is water, no matter at what temperature. Even in a single droplet hung on a leaf after rain, thousands of microscopic living organisms emerge, reproduce, and die.


How would the earth look if there were no water? Certainly, everywhere there would be desert. There would be abysses and horrific pits, in place of seas. The sky would seem cloudless and have a strange colour.
In fact, it is extremely difficult for water, the basis of life on earth, to form. First, let us imagine that hydrogen and oxygen molecules, which are the components of water, are put in a glass bowl. Let us leave them in the bowl for a very long time. These gases may still not form water even if they remain in the bowl for hundreds of years. Even if they do, it would not be more than a very small amount at the very bottom of the bowl and that would happen in a very slow fashion, maybe over thousands of years.

The reason why water forms so slowly under these circumstances is temperature. At room temperature, oxygen and hydrogen react very slowly.

Oxygen and hydrogen, when free, are found as H2 and O2 molecules. To combine to form the water molecule, they must collide. As a result of this collision, the bonds forming the hydrogen and oxygen molecules weaken, leaving no hindrance for the combination of oxygen and hydrogen atoms. Temperature raises the energy and therefore, the speed of these molecules, resulting in an increase in the number of collisions. Thus, it accelerates the course of the reaction. However, currently, no temperature high enough to form water exists on earth. The heat required for the formation of water was supplied during the formation of the earth, which resulted in the emergence of so much water as to cover three quarters of the earth's surface. At present, water evaporates and rises to the atmosphere where it cools and returns to the earth in the form of rain. That is, there is no increase in the quantity; only a perpetual cycle.

The Miraculous Properties of Water


Water has many exceptional chemical properties. Every water molecule forms by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. It is quite interesting that these two gases, one combustive and the other combustible, combine to form a liquid, and most interestingly, water.

Now, let us briefly see how water is formed chemically. The electrical charge of water is zero, that is, it is neutral. Yet, due to the sizes of the oxygen and hydrogen atoms, the oxygen component of the water molecule has a slightly negative charge and its hydrogen component has a slightly positive charge. When more than one water molecule come together, positive and negative charges attract each other to form a very special bond called "the hydrogen bond". The hydrogen bond is a very weak bond and it is incomprehensibly short-lived. The duration of a hydrogen bond is approximately one hundred billionth of a second. But as soon as a bond breaks, another one forms. Thus, water molecules adhere tightly to each other while also retaining their liquid form because they are combined with a weak bond.



If water did not have the property of freezing from the surface downwards, a major portion of the seas would be frozen within a year and life in the sea would be endangered.

Hydrogen bonds also enable water to resist temperature changes. Even if air temperature increases suddenly, water temperature increases slowly and, similarly, if air temperature falls suddenly, water temperature drops slowly. Large temperature changes are needed to cause considerable changes in water temperature. The significantly high thermal energy of water has major benefits for life. To give a simple example, there is a great amount of water in our bodies. If water adapted to the sudden vicissitudes of temperature in the air at the same rate, we would suddenly develop fevers or freeze.

By the same token, water needs a huge thermal energy to evaporate. Since water uses up a great deal of thermal energy while evaporating, its temperature drops. To give an example, again from the human body, the normal temperature of the body is 36º C and the highest body temperature we can tolerate is 42º C. This 6º C interval is indeed very small and even working under the sun for a few hours can increase body temperature by that amount. Yet, our bodies spend a great amount of thermal energy through sweating, that is, by causing the water it contains to evaporate, which in turn causes body temperature to drop. If our bodies did not have such an automatic mechanism, working for even a few hours under the sun could be fatal.

Hydrogen bonds equip water with yet another extraordinary property, which is water's being more viscous in its liquid state than in its solid state. As a matter of fact, most substances on earth are more viscous in their solid states than in their liquid states. Contrary to other substances, however, water expands as it freezes. This is because hydrogen bonds prevent water molecules from bonding to each other too tightly, and thus many gaps are left in between them. Hydrogen bonds are broken down when water is in liquid state, which causes oxygen atoms to come closer to each other and form a more viscous structure.



If water did not have the property of freezing from the surface downwards, a major portion of the seas would be frozen within a year and life in the sea would be endangered.

This also causes ice to be lighter than water. Normally, if you melt any metal and throw in it a few solid pieces of the same metal, these pieces would sink directly to the bottom. In water, however, things are different. Icebergs weighing ten thousands of tons float on water like corks. So, what benefit can this property of water provide us?
Let us answer this question with the example of a river: When the weather is very cold, it is not the whole river, but only the surface of it that freezes. Water reaches its heaviest state at + 4º C, and as soon as it reaches this temperature, it immediately sinks to the bottom. Ice is formed on top of water as a layer. Under this layer, water continues to flow, and since + 4ºC is a temperature at which living organisms can survive, life in water continues.
These unique properties which Allah has given water make life possible on the earth. In the Qur'an, Allah states the importance of this great blessing He offers man:

It is He Who sends down water from the sky. From it you drink and from it come the shrubs among which you graze your herds. And by it He makes crops grow for you and olives and dates and grapes and fruit of every kind. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who reflect. (Surat an-Nahl: 10-11)

An Interesting Property of Water

We all know that water boils at 100º C and freezes at 0º C. In fact, under normal circumstances, water should be boiling not at 100º C but at + 180º C. Why?

In the periodic table, the properties of elements in the same group vary in a progressive form from light elements towards heavy elements. This order is most evident in hydrogen compounds. The compounds of the elements sharing the same group with oxygen in the periodic table are called "hydrides". In fact, water is "oxygen hydride". Hydrides of other elements in this group have the same molecular structure as the water molecule.
The boiling points of these compounds vary in a progressive way from sulphur to heavier ones; however, the boiling point of water unexpectedly goes against this pattern. Water (oxygen hydride) boils at 80º C less than it is supposed to. Another surprising situation has to do with the freezing point of water. Again, according to the order in the periodic system, water is supposed to freeze at - 100º C. Yet, water breaks this rule and freezes at 0º C, 100º C above the temperature at which it is due. This brings to mind the question as to why no other hydride, but only water (oxygen hydride) disobeys the rules of the periodic system.


Molecules at the surface of a liquid feel a net force pulling inward. This is surface tension. It provides a cohesive force between the surface molecules, which is sufficient to prevent the legs of a ripple bug from breaking through. The high surface tension in water is vital to physiological processes. . Martin Sherwood & Christine Sulton, The Physical World, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 30

Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth and sends down water from the sky and by it brings forth fruits as provision for you. He has made the ships subservient to you to run upon the sea by His command, and He has made the rivers subservient to you, and He has made the sun and moon subservient to you holding steady to their courses, and He has made the night and day subservient to you. He has given you everything you have asked Him for. If you tried to number Allah's blessings, you could never count them. Man is indeed wrongdoing, ungrateful.(Surah Ibrahim: 32-34)

The laws of physics, the laws of chemistry, and all the other things we name as rules are just attempts at explaining the extraordinary equilibrium in the universe, and the details of creation. All research conducted in the 20th century shows more than ever that all the physical balances in the universe are tailor-made for human life. Research reveals that all the laws of physics, chemistry and biology prevalent in the universe as well as the atmosphere, sun, atoms and molecules, etc., are all arranged just as they are needed in order to support human life. Water, like the other elements mentioned above, is fit for life to such a degree as not to be comparable to any other liquid, and a major portion of the earth is filled with water in just the right amounts required for life. It is obvious that all these cannot be coincidences and that there is perfect order and design prevalent in the universe.
The staggering physical and chemical properties of water reveal that this liquid has been created specially for human life. Allah gave life to people through water and by it has brought forth from the earth everything they need in order to live. Allah summons people to think about this subject in the Qur'an:

It is He Who sends down water from the sky from which We bring forth growth of every kind, and from that We bring forth the green shoots and from them We bring forth close-packed seeds, and from the spathes of the date palm date clusters hanging down, and gardens of grapes and olives and pomegranates, both similar and dissimilar. Look at their fruits as they bear fruit and ripen. There are Signs in that for people who believe. (Surat al-An'am: 99)

The Protective Ceiling: Ozone

The air we breathe, that is, the lower atmosphere, is in the main composed of oxygen gas. By oxygen gas, we mean O2. That is to say that the oxygen molecules in the lower atmosphere are each comprised of two atoms. However, the oxygen molecule may sometimes be comprised of three atoms (O3). In this case, this molecule is no longer called oxygen, but "ozone", because these two gases are quite different from each other.

One point needs mention here: while oxygen is formed when two oxygen atoms combine, why is a different gas called ozone formed when three oxygen atoms combine? Eventually, isn't it the oxygen atom that combines, be it two or three atoms in a molecule? Why then do two different gases emerge? Before answering these questions, it would be better to see what differentiates these gasses from each other.

Oxygen (O2) is found in the lower atmosphere and gives life to all living beings through respiration. Ozone (O3) is a poisonous gas with a very bad smell. It is found in the highest strata of the atmosphere. If we had to breathe ozone instead of oxygen, none of us would survive.



How does chlorine destroy ozone? Chlorine reacts with ozone, producing an oxygen molecule and a hypochlorite ion (OCl-) (1). The ion reacts with an oxygen atom (2) to liberate free chlorine (3), which can react with and destroy another ozone molecule. P.W. Atkins, Molecules, Scientific American Library, p. 115

 
The ozone is in the upper atmosphere, because there it serves a highly vital function for life. It forms a layer approximately 20 km above the atmosphere surrounding the earth like a belt. It absorbs the ultraviolet rays emitted by the sun, preventing them from reaching the earth at full intensity. Since ultraviolet rays have very high energy, their direct contact with the earth would cause everything on the earth to burn up, never allowing life to form. For this reason, the ozone layer serves as a protective shield in the atmosphere.

In order for life to exist on the earth, all living beings must be able to breathe and be protected from harmful sunrays. The one who forms this system is Allah, Who rules over each atom, each molecule. Without Allah's permission, no power whatsoever could bring these atoms together in different proportions as oxygen and ozone gas molecules.

Molecules We Taste and Smell

The senses of taste and smell are perceptions making man's world more beautiful. The pleasure derived from these senses has been a matter of interest since ancient times and it has been discovered only recently that these are caused by molecular interactions.

"Taste" and "smell" are only perceptions that are created by different molecules in our sense organs. For instance, the smells of food, drinks, or various fruits and flowers we see around us all consist of volatile molecules. So, how does this happen?

Volatile molecules like aroma of vanilla and aroma of rose reach the receptors located on the vibrating hairs in the nasal region called the epithelium and interact with those receptors. This interaction is perceived as smell in our brains. So far, seven different types of receptors have been identified in our nasal cavity, which is lined by a smelling membrane of 2-3 cm2. Each one of these receptors corresponds to a basic smell. In the same way, there are four different types of chemical receptors in the front part of our tongue. These correspond to salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes. Our brains perceive molecules arriving at the receptors of our sense organs as chemical signals.

It has been discovered how taste and smell are perceived and how they are formed, yet scientists have so far not been able to reach agreement as to why certain substances have a strong smell while some have less and why some taste good and some bad.


PIPERINE
Piperine is the active component of white and
black pepper (the berries of the tropical vine
Piper nigrum). Black pepper is obtained by
allowing the unripe fruit to ferment and then
drying it. White pepper is obtained by
removing the skins and pulp of the ripe
berries and drying the seeds.

Para-HYDROXYPHENOL -2-BUTANONE ve IONONE
The mixture of these two molecules produces a very pleasant aroma. Butanone is the molecule chiefly responsible for the smell of ripe raspberries. The fresh new smell of the newly picked fruit is due partly to ionone, which is also responsible for the odours of sun-dried hay and violets. Ionone is the fragrant
component of oil of violets.

b-KERATIN
Silk, the common name of b-Keratin, is the solidified fluid excreted by a number of insects and spiders, the most valuable being the exudent of the silkworm, the caterpillar of the silk moth. It is a polypeptide made largely from glycine, alanine, and smaller amounts of other amino acids. b-Keratin molecules do not form a helix; instead they lie on top of each other to give ridged sheets of linked amino acids, with glycine appearing on only one side of the sheets. The sheets then stack one on top of the other. This planar structure is felt when you touch the smooth surface of silk.

FURYLMETHANETHIOL
This molecule is one of those responsible for the aroma of coffee. The stimulating action of coffee is due to caffeine. The colour of roasted coffee beans seen left is largely due to the browning reaction that occurs when organic substances containing nitrogen are heated. Temporarily trapped within the beans are the molecules responsible for flavour and stimulation.

Think for a minute. We could be living in a world without any flavour or odour. Since we would have no idea about the concepts of taste and fragrance, it would not even occur to us to wish to possess these perceptions.

However, it is not so. Out of the brown soil with a unique smell come hundreds of types of aromatic and delicious fruits, vegetables and flowers in thousands of colours, shapes and fragrances. Why then do these atoms, which, on one hand, come together in an extraordinary way to form matter, combine, on the other hand, to produce taste and smell? Although we often take them as granted and do not remember much what a great favour they are, they pleasantly contribute to our world as products of a magnificent artistry.



The picture on the right belongs to an evil-smelling molecule and the one on the left to an aromatic molecule. As we can see, what distinguishes bad odour from a pleasant odour is these small differences in a microcosm which is invisible to us.

As for other living beings, some eat only grass and some different foodstuffs. Certainly, none of these smell good, or have a great taste. Even if they do, this does not mean much for these living beings as they do not have any consciousness in the sense that human beings have. We, too, could be feeding on a single type of nutrition like them. Have you ever thought how ordinary and tasteless your would life be if you had to eat a single type of food all your life and drink only water? Therefore, taste and smell, like all other blessings, are beauties Allah, possessor of infinite grace and bounty, gave man in return for nothing. The absence of even these two senses alone would make human life quite dull. In return for all these blessings given to him, what falls to man is to try to become a person with whom Allah would be pleased. In compensation for this attitude, his Lord promises him an eternal life, which is unlimitedly furnished with blessings far superior to those that are presented to us on the earth as samples of delights to come in the hereafter. However, the recompense of a life spent ungratefully, heedlessly, and neglectful of Allah, will certainly be a just one:

And when your Lord announced: "If you are grateful, I will certainly give you increase, but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe." (Surah Ibrahim: 7)

How Do We Perceive Matter?

What we have told so far has revealed that what we call matter is not an entity having a specific colour, smell and form, as we believed it to be. What we imagine to be matter, that is our own body, our room, our home, and at large, the world and the whole universe, is in reality nothing but energy. What is it then that makes everything around us visible and touchable?

The reason why we perceive the things around us as matter is the collision of electrons in the orbital shells of atoms with photons, and the atoms' attracting and repelling each other.

It would be impossible for a human being or another living being to survive even for a second. The living being would immediately react with the substance on which he stepped, sat or leaned, and be transformed into something else.

The final picture that emerges in this situation is extremely remarkable: we live in a world that is 99.95 % composed of a void filled with atoms consisting almost entirely of energy.( Taskin Tuna, Uzayin Ötesi (Beyond Space), Bogaziçi Yayinlari, 1995, p. 166) We actually never touch the things we say, "we touch and we hold". So, to what extent do we perceive the matter we see, hear or smell? Are these substances really as we see or hear them? Absolutely not. We had addressed this point when we talked about electrons and molecules.

Remember, it is literally impossible for us to see the matter we believe to exist and see, because the phenomenon we call seeing comprises certain images formed in our brain by photons coming from the sun, or from another light source, hitting the matter, which absorbs a certain portion of the incoming light, and gives out the rest, which therefore is re-emitted from the matter and strikes our eyes. That is to say that the matter we see only consists of the information carried by photons that are reflected to our eye. So, how much of the data related to matter is conveyed to us by this information? We have no proof that the original forms of the matters existing outside are fully reflected to us.