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Surface tension in water might be good at performing tricks, such as being able to float a paper clip on its surface, but surface tension performs many more duties that are vitally important to the environment and people. Find out all about surface tension and water here.
• Water Science School HOME • Water Properties topics •
Surface Tension: "The property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force, due to the cohesive nature of its molecules."
The cohesive forces between liquid molecules are responsible for the phenomenon known as surface tension. The molecules at the surface of a glass of water do not have other water molecules on all sides of them and consequently they cohere more strongly to those directly associated with them (in this case, next to and below them, but not above). It is not really true that a "skin" forms on the water surface; the stronger cohesion between the water molecules as opposed to the attraction of the water molecules to the air makes it more difficult to move an object through the surface than to move it when it is completely submersed. (Source: GSU).
The cohesive forces between molecules in a liquid are shared with all neighboring molecules. Those on the surface have no neighboring molecules above and, thus, exhibit stronger attractive forces upon their nearest neighbors on and below the surface. Surface tension could be defined as the property of the surface of a liquid that allows it to resist an external force, due to the cohesive nature of the water molecules.
Water molecules want to cling to each other. At the surface, however, there are fewer water molecules to cling to since there is air above (thus, no water molecules). This results in a stronger bond between those molecules that actually do come in contact with one another, and a layer of strongly bonded water (see diagram). This surface layer (held together by surface tension) creates a considerable barrier between the atmosphere and the water. In fact, other than mercury, water has the greatest surface tension of any liquid. (Source: Lakes of Missouri)
Within a body of a liquid, a molecule will not experience a net force because the forces by the neighboring molecules all cancel out (diagram). However for a molecule on the surface of the liquid, there will be a net inward force since there will be no attractive force acting from above. This inward net force causes the molecules on the surface to contract and to resist being stretched or broken. Thus the surface is under tension, which is probably where the name "surface tension" came from. (Source: Woodrow Wilson Foundation).
Due to the surface tension, small objects will "float" on the surface of a fluid, as long as the object cannot break through and separate the top layer of water molecules. When an object is on the surface of the fluid, the surface under tension will behave like an elastic membrane.
Source: Georgia State University
Below are other science topics associated with surface tension and water properties.
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