July 7

Water: not solid, liquid, and gas

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Water: not solid, liquid, and gas

By Juman Hijab

Updated on: September 2, 2020 Original date: July 7, 2020


The 3 states of water

I want to express a different opinion than the current one. 

Seeing water as solid, liquid, and gas does not support its unusual character.


It is helpful to view it as 3 states, without regard to whether it is solid or gas.

3 staes of water

The 3 states are:


  • Intermittently connected molecules = liquid water

  • Completely separated molecules = Water vapor

  • Continuously connected molecules = Hydrogen bonded water molecules


How does this help?


  • One can see the changes from one state to another; for example, continuously connected (hydrogen-bonded) water molecules can be solid (ice, snow) or gas/mist (connected water vapor molecules that support fog and cloud formation) 
  • Note that water cannot go directly into continuously connected (hydrogen-bonded) molecules without first changing into water vapor.  
  • Similarly, ice cannot form directed from continuously connected water molecules; it has to be liquid water or water vapor to be able to transform to ice.
    • Snow --> Water vapor or liquid water --> ice

Why does this happen?

It is possible to visualize the effects of different atmospheric conditions on the 3 states of water

  • Temperature changes:
    • create water vapor from liquid water
    • Water vapor cools down to continuously connected molecules
  • Pressure changes: 
    • Pushing water vapor molecules together will cause condensation into liquid water
    • Applying very high pressure on liquid water will freeze the water
    • Decreasing pressure will allow more liquid water to vaporize
  • A large amount of dust particles in the atmosphere will: 
    • create nucleation particles for water vapor to condense into liquid
    • Allow water vapor and water to freeze into ice
    • Allow water vapor to crystallize as snow

Can we understand the 3 states at the molecular level?

Yes, each molecule has its personality and its electron configuration.

This will be extrapolated further in two courses: Why is water clear and transparent? and The 3 states of water: not solid, liquid, and gas.

Picture credits: 

  1. Joao Alves. Clouds. Flickr photo-sharing, Taken on May 13, 2009.
  2. ravas51. IMG_2395. Flickr photo-sharing. Taken Feb 5, 2013
  3. Hijab, J. Diagram showing the 3 states of water and the connections between them, June 2020

Juman Hijab

About the author

Juman is a retired physician after having been in clinical practice for more than four decades. Her lifelong interest has been in the chemistry of life.

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