I have always enjoyed teaching units in my science classes that explore the design of chemical bonding and how it produces over 5000 naturally-occurring mineral species. We can learn some lessons by comparing chemical bonds and human relationships. Four different kinds of bonds form all those minerals:
IONIC BONDS. An ionic bond forms when two or more elements are held together by the giving and taking of electrons that exist in the outer energy levels of each atom. The classic example is sodium chloride, in which sodium gives up an electron, and chlorine takes on an electron. Both atoms are striving for stability, and they bond by one giving and the other getting. This kind of bond is not very strong. For example, halite, rock salt, is easily dissolved in water. Comparing these chemical bonds and human relationships, we see co-dependency as a similar type of bonding, and it, too, is not very strong.
COVALENT BONDS. Sharing of electrons creates this type of bond. This is the method of carbon bonding, which is the foundation of biochemistry. It is the bonding technique used to create life. In covalent bonding, the nuclei draw closer together, and the bond is very strong. A diamond is a classic example, and the contrast to halite is obvious. In human relationships, covalency is like marriage when both partners are respected and share in the bonding.
METALLIC BONDS. Elements in this bonding method have an outer layer of delocalized electrons that have fluid movement and are not tightly bound to individual atoms. This cloud of electrons gives a charge to the crystal and allows the material to be ductile, malleable, opaque, and a good conductor of heat and electricity. Copper is a classic example of this bonding. Humans with no solid attraction for others can be very singular in nature.
VAN DER WALLS BONDS. Rubbing a balloon on your shirt and sticking it to a wall exemplifies this very complex bonding. This bonding uses both ionic and covalent techniques. It has silicon-oxygen structures in layers with a variety of elements included in the layers. Examples are mica and clay. This layering prevents anything 90 degrees away from the plane of the layers from passing through it. That makes clay extremely useful in agriculture, landfills, and water reservoirs.
We can compare clay to God’s love for us. We see God’s genius as we use an electron microscope to examine clay crystals that are 1/256 mm or less in diameter. We can see the bonding God calls each of us to realize we don’t all bond in the same way. Our bonding with God gives us an understanding of the unique nature He has given us and everything around us. Geologist Jeffrey Greenberg wrote, “We do not worship Nature in Creation, but we worship the Creator and certainly should love the created as He does.”
How does a one-electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen allow life to exist on our planet? Why does the correct mix between those two elements in our atmosphere make it possible for us to be here?
Yesterday, we talked about covalent bonding in oxygen and nitrogen. We said that an oxygen atom needs to share two electrons with another oxygen atom to make a stable oxygen molecule. However, nitrogen needs to share three electrons with another nitrogen atom to complete the valence shell and create stability. So how can a single electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen be a big deal?
For oxygen or nitrogen to combine with other elements to form new compounds essential for life, the covalent bond between them must be broken. It takes about double the energy to break the triple bond between two nitrogen atoms as to break the double bond between two oxygen atoms. That means oxygen can be released to form other compounds much more easily. What does it take to break the oxygen bond and combine it with another element? Apply some heat to combustible material, and you will find out. You will get fire, which is a chemical reaction involving rapid oxidation of the burning material. Much slower oxidation occurs when oxygen in your blood combines with nutrients in your body, giving you energy and generating body heat. Another slow form of oxidation is when iron combines with oxygen to form iron oxide, or rust.
If it were not possible to release oxygen from its molecular bond with relative ease, we would not have combustion to heat our homes, run our vehicles, or energize our bodies. Life would not be possible. However, nitrogen bonds are much harder to break, and nitrogen is also essential for life. Tomorrow we will look at how the one-electron difference between oxygen and nitrogen enables life on planet Earth.
We see a correlation between salt and water chemical bonds and life. One of the first things students learn in chemistry class is that elements bond to form compounds in two different ways. One is called “covalent,” and the other is called “ionic.”
In an ionic bond, two elements transfer an electron. An excellent example of ionic bonding is sodium chloride, common table salt. The sodium in salt has a loosely-held electron in its last orbital. Chlorine, on the other hand, needs an electron, because its last orbital is one electron short of the most stable configuration. When sodium and chlorine combine, the sodium gives up its last electron, and the chlorine absorbs it.
A classic example of a covalent bond is water. Hydrogen needs an electron to produce the most stable possible form of the hydrogen atom. Oxygen needs two electrons to give it the most stable arrangement. Oxygen can share two of its electrons with two hydrogen atoms. The result is that two hydrogen atoms are attached to the one oxygen atom, producing water.
Water and salt are very different kinds of compounds. Water is tough to break apart into its component atoms. Salt is very easy to break apart. Just dumping salt into water will tear the salt molecule apart into sodium and chlorine. The design of these atoms is amazing. The salt molecule is polar because only two atoms are involved. The water molecule is also polar because of the location of the two electrons that are shared with the hydrogen. An electron by itself is not stable. The spin of the electrons and their magnetic properties require pairing to be stable, and that pairing forms compounds such as water and salt.
In teaching high school chemistry, I would use boy-girl relationships to help kids understand chemical bonding. The Bible tells us in Genesis 2:18 that God said, “It is not good that man should be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.” Verse 24 says, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” All of life reaches stability in a shared relationship. Just as water is more stable than salt, so too humans who are in a committed relationship of oneness and sharing are more stable than when isolated and alone. The same Designer of salt and water chemical bonds gave us each other for the best of life.