Salt and Water Chemical Bonds and Life

Salt and Water Chemical Bonds and Life

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.

— John N. Clayton © 2020

Periodic Table of Elements

Periodic Table of ElementsOne of the great accomplishments of science has been the organizing of the elements into a form that allows us to use chemistry in amazing ways. In 1789 Antoine Lavoisier published a list of 33 elements grouping them into gases, metals, nonmetals, and earths. For the next 100 years, chemists searched for a better classification system. As the understanding of the design of atoms improved, scientists developed the periodic table of elements.

In 1869 Dmitri Mendeleev published the first table designed to show periodic changes in the properties of the elements. He was even able to predict the discovery of elements unknown at the time that would fill out his chart. As scientists further refined the periodic table of elements, it became even more useful. The horizontal rows are called periods, with metals on the left and nonmetals on the right. As you move from left to right in a period, the elements become less metallic. As you move from top to bottom, the columns, called groups, have similar properties. All of the elements in the last group on the right side of the chart are called noble gases, and they are chemically inactive. The next vertical column to the left of noble gases is called the halogens. They have similar chemical properties, such as the ability to support combustion.

We now know that the reason the periodic table of elements works is because of the electron configurations of the atoms. Chlorine, for example, has an electron configuration that leaves it one electron short of a stable chemical structure. It will exert tremendous force to get a single electron to make its electron configuration stable. Sodium has an extra electron that it would really like to get rid of to gain stability. Those two elements react so that sodium transfers its electron to chlorine and the compound that results is salt – NaCl. Every element in the vertical group with sodium will also react with chlorine in the same way, making lithium chloride, potassium chloride, rubidium chloride, etc.

We now have 118 confirmed elements in existence with 94 occurring naturally. Scientists have produced the remaining 24 elements in laboratories with nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson being the most recent. It is difficult to think about atoms and understand how their electrons control their uses and not be impressed by the mind that created this incredibly complex system.

This is a very brief over simplification explanation of the periodic table of elements. It just begins to suggest how the electrons are organized into shells and subshells. The system allows different methods of bonding elements together, creating a diverse population of new compounds that make our lives not only comfortable but possible. For a better understanding, enroll in a basic chemistry class at your local community college or university. “The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23 NIV).
— John N. Clayton © 2019

The Design of Basic Chemistry

Chemistry Class
Chemistry Class

I enjoyed teaching basic chemistry. Once we got over the fear factor that came from what other people had told them, young people became as enthralled as I am with the way chemistry works. Just the basic concept of acids, bases and salts was a revelation to most kids. They had visions of acids being stuff that could eat your arm off and had a hard time understanding that the salad dressing they put on their lunch was primarily an acid. When they saw that their soda pop would turn litmus red indicating it had acid in it, they were incredulous. Understanding that ascorbic acid was vitamin C and that there was acid in their stomach made kids realize that acids serve us in many benign ways.

The next revelation was that bases also have many important uses. Household ammonia, ammonium hydroxide, is a base. Sodium hydroxide is a strong base able to do amazing things to grease, making it a classic soap. Calcium hydroxide is lime, and some kids knew it was used on their lawns and gardens. The real surprise for kids was what a salt is. When I pulled out the salt shaker, I would ask them what kind of salt was in it? Most of them knew it was sodium chloride, but I had twenty salt shakers all of which were labeled “salt, ” and none of them contained sodium chloride. Some were potassium chloride, and some were calcium chloride. Some were different colors such as copper chloride, iron chloride, and cobalt chloride. It was interesting to watch them test the salts with litmus paper as they discovered that salts could be acidic or basic.

The next step was to make salts. We would take hydrochloric acid (a strong acid) and mix it with sodium hydroxide (a strong base) and get sodium chloride and water–two things you take into your body. If you mixed the hydrochloric acid with a weak base like aluminum hydroxide you would get aluminum chloride which would turn litmus paper red indicating an acidic nature. What do you put on your plants to make them grow? Some plants like an acidic soil. If you pour hydrochloric acid on the soil, you will kill the plants, but acid salt will make such plants flourish.

One day after doing all of these tests and writing all of this down, one of my students looked at the board and all the equations we had written and said, “Who thought all of this stuff up in the first place?” That question is always out there, in every science class, every experiment, and every view we make through a microscope or a telescope. Romans 1: 20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Science is knowledge, and the more we know of the creation, the closer we can get to the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2017