26 Mar 2021

Water, the Magic Act of the Universe

Water, the Magic Act of the Universe

by Nina Munteanu

Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, but there is also a third thing that makes it water and nobody knows what it is.—D.H. Lawrence

I’m a limnologist. Like other water scientists, I study the properties of water; how it behaves in a watershed. I help manage water in our environment; its flow, distribution, storage and quality. I look at how water changes the landscape, carving out huge valleys, forming deltas at river mouths, and polishing pebbles smooth on a lakeshore. I investigate the effects of its contamination by toxins, organic pollutants and disrespect. In its solid form, water has scraped out huge swaths of land and formed some of our largest lakes, dropping moraine in places and melt water from ice blocks elsewhere. In its gaseous form, water controls climate and weather.

And yet, what do I and my fellow scientists really know about water?

Water is the most common substance on Earth. Chemically, the water molecule is basically two atoms of hydrogen joined to one of oxygen. For something so “simply” made, water is pretty complex; the configuration of its building blocks produces a molecule with unusual and almost magical properties. Water scientists have been disagreeing for the past fifty years over how water molecules arrange themselves in a liquid drop.

Water is weird. It is the only natural substance found in all three physical states (liquid, solid and gas) at temperatures normally found on Earth. Water stores an incredible amount of energy and heat. It is a universal solvent. It can dissolve a large variety of chemical substances like salts, other ionic compounds, and polar covalent compounds such as alcohols and organic acids. It transports all kinds of things from the sediment of the Nile River to the oxygenated blood cells in your arteries. It is the most cohesive among the non-metallic liquids. Water is involved in the structure of DNA. 


Water has at least seventy anomalous properties and virtually all are life-giving. Its unique properties make water possibly the most important element of our existence and in ways most of us can’t possibly imagine. Water’s anomalous properties—such as its thermal density, high specific heat, and viscosity—are key to the existence of life. If not for these anomalous properties, north temperate lakes would ice up completely in winter, killing virtually all their aquatic life; lakes and oceans around the world would not mix and stratify, and would fail to provide essential nutrients to aquatic biota. As a gas, water is the lightest known. As a liquid, it is much denser than expected; and as a solid, it is much lighter than expected, compared with its liquid form. Water can be very sticky and very slippery at the same time. Its high surface tension and its expansion on freezing help erode rocks and create soil for plant growth and allow it to travel great distances up a tree to feed its leaves.

Water is a shape shifter. Water responds to and changes the properties of all kinds of things. Water changes all the time; and yet, it has stayed the same over eons. Since the dinosaurs quenched their thirst in the soupy marshes of the Triassic Period millions of years ago, to the rain falling on your house today, the amount of moisture on Earth hasn’t changed.

Scientific studies have begun to show some astonishing properties and behaviours of water. One is that water reacts to—and may even drive some—cosmic phenomena. Laboratory studies with water have shown that it is not always the same. Studies have revealed that water is influenced by shifts in the Earth’s magnetic field or by explosions on the Sun. Of course, most of us know about how the Earth’s great water bodies respond to the movements of the Moon around the Earth in the oceanic tides and the seiches of the Great Lakes. But we are learning that water is far more sensitive and responsive than most people ever imagined. And some suspect that water responds to and is interconnected in some way with all that exists in the cosmos.

Water is made of the first and third most common elements in the universe, hydrogen and oxygen. Water is the second most common molecule in the universe (the most common is hydrogen gas, H2). As ice, water is apparently the most abundant solid material out there, found on comets, planets and moons throughout the universe. 


Water arrived on Earth in comets and asteroids some 4.5 to 3.8 billion years ago during a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment. Some form of water was discovered in twenty-three places in the solar system, including the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus, Saturn’s and Jupiter’s moons. An ocean was discovered under the ice crust of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Since a hydrothermal vent at the bottom of one of the Earth’s oceans is thought to be the best candidate for where life started on our planet, astrobiologists think Enceladus is a good place to look for alien life.

Water is fundamental to star formation. The sun and other stars like it create the equivalent of 100 million times the water in the Amazon River every second. NASA recently discovered the largest water vapour reservoir around a black hole 12 billion light years from Earth; It contains 140 trillion times as much water as all the water in the Earth’s oceans.

Theodor Schwenk suggested that flowing water acts like a sensory organ through which celestial influences enter the world.

Water,” says William E. Marks, author of The Holy Order of Water, “may be the connecting interstellar intermediary between all matter in the universe. Just as a thrown pebble sends waves of energy rippling through every water molecule in a pond, changes in any planet or sun may also send waves of energy rippling through every water molecule throughout the universe.”


Magic surges with power and mystery. Magic hides in clear view; it ripples with intrigue. When you look at magic, you see only your reflection, while its depths veil immeasurable possibility.


Magic is water.

Some Cool Weird Water Properties:

  • Water is sticky. The molecules stick to things, especially each other. This is what gives water its high surface tension and keeps you alive: water can pull blood up narrow vessels in the body, often against the force of gravity.

  • Water should be a gas at room temperature—but it isn’t; all similar molecules, such as hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and ammonia (NH3), are gases. This is because water’s stickiness (high water tension and cohesion) holds molecules together as a liquid.

  • Hot water freezes faster than cold water and no one knows why. This phenomenon is known as the Mpemba Effect (named after Erasto Mpemba in 1969).

  • There are at least 5 different phases of liquid water and 14 different phases (that scientists have found so far) of ice. See the work by Martin Chaplin (ref below).

  • At -120 °C water becomes ultraviscous, or thick like molasses. And below -135 °C, it becomes “glassy water,” a solid with no crystal structure.

  • Water exhibits quantum properties such as “coherence” and self-organization.

  • Water can dissolve more substances than any other liquid including sulfuric acid.

  • Unlike most other liquids, water expands when it freezes. Water expands by 9% on freezing. This has been crucial to life: lakes and rivers freeze from the top down so even though the Earth has faced successive ice ages, there has always been liquid water for life to continue evolving.

Photographs by Nina Munteanu


Ball P. 2008. “Water—an enduring mystery.” Nature: 452, 291–292.

Ball P. 2008. “Water as an Active Constituent in Cell Biology.” Chem. Rev. 108: 74.

Buzzfeed. “27 Fascinating and Strange Facts About Water.” Buzzfeed.com:  http://www.buzzfeed.com/tomchivers/fascinating-and-strange-facts-about-water#.yizEKPM8R

Chaplin, Martin. 2016. “Anomalous Properties of Water”. In: “Water Structure and Science”. Online:  http://www1.lsbu.ac.uk/water/water_anomalies.html

Chaplin, M.F. 2003.“Thirty eight anomalies of water, Part 1”. Homeopath. Med. Panorama 11: 12–19.

Chaplin, M.F. 2003. “Thirty eight anomalies of water, Part II”. Homeopath. Med. Panorama 11: 22–28.

Cho, C.H.; S. Singh; and G.W. Robinson. 1997. “Understanding all of water’s anomalies with a nonlocal potential.” J. Chem. Phys. 107: 7979–7988.

Del Giudice E.; M. Fleischmann; G. Preparata; and G. Talpo. 2002. “On the ‘unreasonable’ effects of ELF magnetic fields upon a system of ions.” Bioelectromagnetics 23: 52–30.

Environment Canada. 2011. “Water Basics.” Online: https://www. ec.gc.ca/eau-water/

Marks, William E. 2001. “The Holy Order of Water.” Bell Pond Books. 256 pp.

Munteanu, Nina. 2016. “Water Is… The Meaning of Water.” Pixl Press, Vancouver. 586pp.

Schwenk, Theodor. 1996. “Sensitive Chaos.” Rudolf Steiner Press, London. 232 pp.

Szent-Györgyi, Albert. 1972. “The Living State: With Observations on Cancer.” Academic Press. New York. 124 pp.

Treehugger. “36 Eye-Opening Facts About Water”. Treehugger.com: http://www.treehugger.com/clean-water/36-eye-opening-facts-about-water.html

Voeikov, V.L. and E. Del Guidice. 2009. “Water Respiration—the Basis of the Living State.” Water 1: 52–75.

vonRöntgen, W.K. 1892. “The Structure of Liquid Water.” Annu. Phys. 45: 91.

Xantheas, S.S. 2000. “Cooperativity and hydrogen bonding network in water clusters.” Chem. Phys. 258, 225–231.

19 Mar 2021

Science Every Day by Raymond Nakamura

 by Raymond Nakamura

I am a lapsed scientist. I have not been part of an official system for cranking out new scientific knowledge. But I still like to think about science-y things when I can.

A little while ago, I was watching The Sisters Brothers movie a little while ago (not for children) and wondered about various details in the story, which might have a real life answer, such as the tooth powder, or might be made up for the fun of a fictional story, like the gold-panning chemical. I don’t have the time or inclination to hunt down the answer to every question that pops into my head, although I do know some people who seem to feel that is what having a smart phone with a data plan is for. 

I also like to make anecdotal observations, which might build on my understanding of the world, or could lead to other questions about how things work.

One of the trickiest things about being a real scientist (besides finding money to do your research) is finding questions that are solvable. As a working scientist, if you plan on continuing to work, your job depends on finding questions to which you can find some kind of satisfying answer and that no one else has already found. Every day questions, however, may not have answers at all or can be too complicated to solve easily. 

Many every day problems involve other people. And whenever people are involved, things get messy.

Even worse, possible answers to questions might be presented by people hoping to make money off the answers. They might use a veneer of science to offer what might seem like reasonable answers to your questions, but are not really. Someone I know was quite convinced of the powers of a certain drink, which seemed too good to be true. Their supposed evidence, left me feeling doubtful.

Science can be a powerful tool for uncovering how the world works and finding ways to solve problems. Even so, some of these answers might not always be as ideal as we might hope. 

As we weigh our options, we must remain wary of our biases and do our best to make wise decisions in a complex, ever changing world. Choose well, my friends.

12 Mar 2021

A Good Look At Perseverance

 There's a lot of action happening around Mars right now.  In February 2021, three new space probes arrived at Mars. The first was Hope Probe, sent by United Arab Emirates, which will orbit Mars and study the planet's atmosphere for an entire Martian year (that's 867 days for scientists back on Earth!) The UAE space agency has an interactive website at this link which updates Hope Probe in real time.

The second probe to arrive in orbit around Mars during February 2021 was Tianwen-1, sent by China. Their orbiter is looking at a potential landing site for their rover, and they hope to land it on Mars in May.

On February 18 NASA landed their own new rover on the red planet, and the rover is called Perseverance. Here's a link to a video about the exciting landing for this robot that will drive around Jezero Crater on Mars like a little remote-controlled car: http://youtu.be/tlTni_HY1Bk 

NASA now has available some audio recordings made on Mars by Perseverance. Check out this link to hear the sound of wind on Mars, or of Perseverance's little laser pinging off nearby rocks. Then look at the banner at the top of the page, where you'll find links to info about the mission, the spacecraft, and more. Download some images, sounds, and videos! There's enough Mars news here to keep any space fan busy learning about Perseverance and other Mars explorers. 

Mars 2020 Strategic Mission Manager Pauline Hwang, gives remarks during a NASA Perseverance rover initial surface checkout briefing, Friday Feb. 19, 2021, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Mars 2020 Strategic Mission Manager Pauline Hwang, gives remarks during a NASA Perseverance rover initial surface checkout briefing, Friday Feb. 19, 2021, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

At first glance Perseverance looks much like other NASA robot probes that have been rolling around Mars for a while now: Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. Check out this article on the science website Phys.org or the academic website The Conversation for good descriptions of all these rover probes.

If it sounds to you like there's a lot of traffic around Mars, you're right! There are six other space probes currently orbiting Mars as well: three are from the United States and its partners in NASA's Mars Odyssey (which has been in Mars orbit for twenty years), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and MAVEN Orbiter.   
The European Space Agency sent their Mars Express orbiter, which has used radar to determine the possibility of liquid water under the surface of Mars. India sent its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter was sent by a European and Russian partnership.

If you're like me, there are times when you've looked at a photo of a Mars rover and been frustrated because good ol' Opportunity didn't take a photo of itself from the right angle to show you exactly what it looks like from behind, or above, or off to the left. It's possible to get a really good look at Perseverance rover, though! There's a page on NASA's website that has a 3-D image modelling Perseverance. If you click on this link, a page will open with an image of the rover. You'll be able to download the 3-D image, click on it with your computer and pull the image this way and that. You can turn Perseverance around, or upside down, and get a good look at how the camera arm attaches. As well, you can click on this link to see a similar image of Ingenuity, the little helicopter drone that can fly above Perseverance. On March 11th NASA's Mars Helicopter team did a live chat (that you can watch at this link) answering questions about their plans for Ingenuity.

If you're making a piece of art, or an illustration for a school paper, it will be nice to use this 3-D image to move the model into just the exact position you need. Rovers are popular robots to illustrate science fiction stories, and many rovers appear on the covers of science fiction books or magazines. 

Here's a little rover that appeared on issue 6 of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine. Artist Stephanie Ann Johanson designed the cover with a digital drawing of a robot on the moon. The image was inspired by the third story in issue six, Survival Strategies by Vaughan Stanger. Stephanie is an artist, assistant editor and art director of Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine. She also has several illustrations and covers designed for many of the magazine's 31 issues.

6 Mar 2021

The Science Behind Conspiracy Theories

 by Yolanda Ridge

Sci Why Post: March 5, 2021

The Science behind Conspiracy Theories

It’s been almost one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. We know a lot more about the coronavirus than we did then but there’s still lots of conspiracy theories about it and many people who believe them.

What is a conspiracy theory?

It’s an attempt to explain tragic events by the actions of a small, powerful group of people who are usually seen as evil. Conspiracy theories often suggest that some important secret is being kept from the general public.

Top coronavirus conspiracy theories:

  • It spread through the 5G network.

  • It was created by Bill Gates so he could implant microchips in people through vaccination.

  • It escaped from a Chinese lab.

  • It was developed as a biological weapon.

  • There’s some type of miracle cure for COVID-19.

  • It doesn’t exist.

Where do conspiracy theories come from?

There’s usually a small grain of truth that starts a conspiracy theory. It spreads from there, mostly through fear.

For example, people blamed 5G because there was a rapid rollout of 5G networks taking place at the same time the pandemic hit (truth). A meme linking the two went viral thanks mostly to anti-vaccine activists who also believe that electromagnetic radiation is bad (fear).

The World Health Organization has been very clear that viruses cannot travel on mobile networks. It’s also true that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in many countries that do not have 5G. Even so, this conspiracy theory led to cellphone towers being set on fire in some part of the world.

Why do people believe conspiracy theories?

People who believe in conspiracy theories instead of explanations grounded in fact and science are not necessarily crazy. Or dumb.

Here are a few reasons people are especially likely to believe COVID-19 conspiracy theories:

  • When we feel insecure and isolated, our brains are more likely to buy into what we consider popular opinion (especially if those opinions are supported by celebrities or other influencers).

  • Our brains often confuse familiarity with the truth, which means we tend to believe things we see over and over again thanks to social media algorithms.

  • Simple explanations for random events help us feel more in control.

  • When we’re anxious we use cognitive shortcuts—unconscious beliefs or biases—to make fast decisions about what to believe.

  • Once we’ve decided to believe in something, we seek out information that supports that belief.

  • Conspiracy theories allow us to cope with threatening events by blaming a specific group of “other people”.

Are conspiracy theories bad?

Yes! It’s estimated that 46% of Canadians believe one of the big conspiracy theories regarding COVID-19 and 28% of Americans believe the coronavirus was created by Bill Gates. Burning cellphone towers is bad, obviously, but conspiracy theories are especially dangerous when they stop people from taking reasonable actions like getting vaccinated.

According to two surveys done at the end of 2020, 35-40% of Americans say they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine. Since fighting the pandemic requires the vast majority of people to get vaccinated, this is not good at all.

People who believe in conspiracy theories are also less likely to follow health guidelines such as wearing masks and social distancing.

How can you avoid conspiracy theories?

It’s not easy to convince someone who believes in a conspiracy theory that they’re wrong. Here are a few ways to make sure you don’t become one of them:

  • Get information from reliable sources like reputable news organizations instead of social media.

  • Be aware of your own cognitive shortcuts and biases such as racist attitudes or political opinions.

  • Use critical thinking to interpret data and information.

  • Look for facts and science-based evidence that support beliefs or claims.

  • Think before you share information.

Yolanda Ridge is a middle grade author and science writer from Rossland, BC. Her most recent nonfiction book for young adult readers, CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA (Annick, 2020) is available wherever you buy books. Visit www.yolandaridge.com to find out more.

Image Credits

  1. Conspiracy Theories by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

  2. Shhhh… clipart image from pixy.org

  3. 5G image from Pixabay

  4. Cartoon Monkey is Scratching His Head vector clipart from pixy.org

  5. Face Mask image by ArtJane at Pixabay

  6. A_NEW_TRUTH.jpeg by Mossado at Wikimedia Commons

Source Information

  1. https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/2020/04/covid-top-10-current-conspiracy-theories/

  2. https://www.statista.com/chart/23105/share-of-coronavirus-misinformaton-identified-as-conspiracy-theories/

  3. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/why-people-latch-on-to-conspiracy-theories-according-to-science

  4. https://www.damemagazine.com/2020/04/06/the-brain-science-behind-conspiracy-theories/

  5. Timothy Caulfield’s University of Alberta Alumni presentation “Relax Dammit: Don’t Let Health Misinformation Stress You Out!”

  6. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/12/03/intent-to-get-a-covid-19-vaccine-rises-to-60-as-confidence-in-research-and-development-process-increases/

  7. https://news.gallup.com/poll/327425/willingness-covid-vaccine-ticks.aspx