The chemistry of everyday events

There's a way to understand chemistry even in the mundane tasks of the day. How can a load of tumbling shirts teach you something about chemistry or physics?

If there's not a connection to the real world, then what is the point of learning science? Every bit of hard-won scientific knowledge ever gained began with someone asking, "What causes _____ to happen?"

As a science tutor, it's my job to make sure you learn all the hard facts and the proper formula and vocabulary so you can pass the AP exam or your test or whatever academic ordeal you must surmount. But in the end, this is not true science.

To learn science, we'll have to start with laundry. Wet clothes tumbling around in a warm drum. But wet means there's water, and so now we have something that can be explained scientifically.

Water has a polarity. The electrons tend to spend more time near the oxygen end of the atom than at the hydrogen end. As a result, there is a weak negative charge near the oxygen and a weak positive charge near the hydrogen. These charges allow water to form hydrogen bonds.

A hydrogen bond is an electromagnetic attraction that is not very strong or long-lasting. It's what causes water to stick to other things. Hydrogen bonds are continuously breaking and re-forming. As they do so, individual water molecules have a chance to "escape." Many of them do, and so when left to itself anything wet will eventually become dry, as long as the surrounding air is more dry than the object.

If you hang your clothes on a line, this alone will dry them. Sunlight will cause your clothes to dry even faster, because the sun will add energy to the water molecules. This energy will cause the molecules to vibrate faster, and the motion will tend to break hydrogen bonds more quickly and frequently.

Wind will also dry your clothes faster. The air rushing past the surface of the clothes will carry away the released water molecules, preventing them from bonding anew with the laundry.

A dryer mimics these two effects. The heat breaks the molecules free more quickly. The tumbling and ventilation cause a motion of air currents to carry away the liberated water molecules.

The chemistry of water is sound, and the clothes are high and dry.

Whenever you study chemistry, physics, or any other branch of science learning, find the connection to everyday things. Real world equals real science.

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