Water’s Dancing molecules

By Juman Hijab

Updated on: September 2, 2020 Original date: January 16, 2020

Water is everywhere

Meditarranean sea

In clouds, vapor, lakes, oceans, and almost every object around us.

Understanding this small molecule is challenging given its versatility and universal presence.


Two important areas to focus on are:

  • Water molecules connect to others through hydrogen bonds.
  • A hydrogen bond is the most agile bond in the Universe. This  bond is the Prima Ballerina of bonds.Dancing Ballerinas

It is this very limber connection that allows water to exist as steam, fog, and clouds.

Water: a very versatile molecule 


Water has incredible hydrogen bonding properties.

One oxygen atom of H2O can bind up to four atoms of hydrogen

  • two through real (covalent/more stable bonds) bonds and
  • two through hydrogen bonds (more temporary bonds).

Not only that, water molecules can rotate in different planes. This means that the water molecules shown in this figure can rotate on an x, y, or z-axis. hydrogen bonds

Between water’s multi-dimensional bonding and its ability to separate and join bonds in fractions of seconds, liquid water acts as a 4-dimensional molecule (with time adding the 4th dimension).

Of note, Hydrogen bonds have been visualized  using infrared technology; the atoms seem to vibrate alongside each other).

Water’s too-many-to-count connections

hydrogen bond network

Because of the ongoing connecting and disconnecting of water molecules to each other, water has a dual character:

  • It is liquid, with the molecules holding on the each other, practically continuously. 
  • However, within each microcosm of water groups, there is a huge amount of movement that can only be seen when one moves toward a femtosecond timescale (A millionth of a nanosecond –>  0.000000000000001 second = 1 femtosecond)

Folk dancing water molecules

It is as if each hydrogen atom is dancing between its two Oxygen atom partners in an immense (but minute) folk dancing festival. 

Imagine thousands of folk dancers twirling around at super high speed, touching hands of one dancer then another then another, each for a split second.

folk dancing festivalIf the dancers wore identical costumes, one would not see the individual dancers; the folk dance festival would look like a colorful rug that is swaying one way and then another.

This is how water is: there are trillions and trillions of water molecules in one drop of water.

Even though each molecule is continuously dancing with its sister molecules in a femtosecond time-scale, the drop of water seems motionless.


Is there water out there?

Is there water out there?

If it is true that water is necessary – but actually not sufficient – to create life, is there evidence for water in other planetary systems?

Titan versus SaturnIn our own Galaxy, Saturn’s moons (for example, Titan and Enceladus) are believed to have underground water.

Titan is the largest moon orbiting Saturn. Much of the water underneath its surface is in ice form as the temperatures range in the -179ºC (-290ºF). However, in addition to this icy layer, there is evidence that there is a global ocean of water underneath the crust. This may be very salty water, with a very high density of sulfur, potassium, and sodium, just like our Dead Sea on Earth.


Hydrogen bonds and Health

Creating life means having bonds between atoms that are agile and adaptable.

The hydrogen bond allows life as it is the bond that is the most agile within a sea of other atoms.

Water as H2O encourages the movement of ions and molecules within living structures, allowing the different elements to integrate. This mingling is due to the nimbleness of our inescapable hydrogen bond connections in nature.

Hydrogen bonds have the capacity to form Hydrogen bond networkincredibly nimble relationships.

Such lively and fluid relationships are a necessary prerequisite for living systems.

In a shrewd association, this may also be the easiest way to think about health.

Agility and relationships are the names of the game for health.

Start at the molecular level, then move to cellular systems, then organ systems, then relationships with the natural world, and finally human relationships.

  • No (limber and agile) hydrogen bonds = no life
  • Unhealthy relationships at the molecular level = less than healthy life

It all connects.


Picture credits

  1. Picture of the Mediterranean sea, 8/2016.
  2. Ballet Dancer Vector. Kamensky. Vectorstock.com
  3. Thomas Brueckner “Hydrogen bonds” Flickr – Photo Sharing! Taken on Oct 7, 2005
  4. Masakazu Matsumoto. “hydrogen bond network structure of water”. Flickr – Photosharing! Aug 1, 2002
  5. Eesti.pl. “Dance Festival. Every 5 years, The Song and Dance Festival is taking part. On a stadium, even five thousand dancers are dancing in the same time.” Flickr – Photosharing! Taken July 4, 2009.
  6. Forsetius “Titan vs Saturn” Flickr – Photosharing! Taken on Nov 12, 2006.
  7. Masakazu Matsumoto “Water in hydrogen bond network” Flickr – Photosharing! July 10, 2008


  1. Christopher P. McKay. Titan as the Abode of Life. Life (Basel) 2016 March; 6(1): 8. (this paper makes the argument that non-H2O life forms could be manufactured in Titan’s methane lakes).
  2. Pollack GH1, Figueroa X, Zhao Q. Molecules, water, and radiant energy: new clues for the origin of life. Int J Mol Sci. 2009 Mar 27;10(4):1419-29.
  3. Nick Pace C, Scholtz JM, Grimsley GR. Forces stabilizing proteins. FEBS Lett. 2014 Jun 27;588(14):2177-84.
  4. Zhao L, Ma K, Yang Z. Changes of water hydrogen bond network with different externalities. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Apr 15;16(4):8454-89.
  5. Ishikita H, Saito K. Proton transfer reactions and hydrogen-bond networks in protein environments. J R Soc Interface. 2013 Nov 27;11(91):20130518.


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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