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Basic Chemistry Concepts


deuterium oxide, T2O, D2O, hydrogen isotope, Protoplasm

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Water, common name applied to the liquid state of the hydrogen-oxygen compound H2O. The ancient philosophers regarded water as a basic element typifying all liquid substances. Scientists did not discard that view until the latter half of the 18th century. In 1781 the British chemist Henry Cavendish synthesized water by detonating a mixture of hydrogen and air. However, the results of his experiments were not clearly interpreted until two years later, when the French chemist Antoine Laurent Lavoisier proved that water was not an element but a compound of oxygen and hydrogen. In a scientific paper presented in 1804, the French chemist Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac and the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt demonstrated jointly that water consisted of two volumes of hydrogen to one of oxygen, as expressed by the present-day formula H2O.

Almost all the hydrogen in water has an atomic weight of 1. The American chemist Harold Clayton Urey discovered in 1932 the presence in water of a small amount (1 part in 6000) of so-called heavy water, or deuterium oxide (D2O); deuterium is the hydrogen isotope with an atomic weight of 2. In 1951 the American chemist Aristid Grosse discovered that naturally occurring water contains also minute traces of tritium oxide (T2O); tritium is the hydrogen isotope with an atomic weight of 3.

Water in Life

Water is the major constitutent of living matter. From 50 to 90 percent of the weight of living organisms is water. Protoplasm, the basic material of living cells, consists of a solution in water of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, salts, and similar chemicals. Water acts as a solvent, transporting, combining, and chemically breaking down these substances. Blood in animals and sap in plants consist largely of water and serve to transport food and remove waste material. Water also plays a key role in the metabolic breakdown of such essential molecules as proteins and carbohydrates. This process, called hydrolysis, goes on continually in living cells.

Article key phrases:

deuterium oxide, T2O, D2O, hydrogen isotope, Protoplasm, basic element, atomic weight, scientific paper, hydrolysis, liquid state, waste material, sap, carbohydrates, solvent, proteins, salts, experiments, presence, Blood, century, Scientists, plants, percent, animals, key role, half, solution, food, air, process, Life, results, years

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