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The Unique and Unusual Properties of Water

Charles D. Riley, Jr., P.E.

Course Outline

Water is one of the most common and ordinary substances that we encounter on a day to day basis, yet most people do not truly understand the significance that water plays in shaping our environment and in sustaining life. This course provides an introduction to some of the unique and unusual properties of water - the exceptionally high freezing and boiling points, high heat capacity, high latent heats of evaporation and fusion, and high surface tension. Brief discussions of general chemical bonding and the structure of the water molecule are included to explain the causes of these unusual properties. The course also includes discussion on the practical applications and the significance of the unique and unusual properties of water.

This course includes a multiple choice quiz at the end.

Learning Objective

The objectives of this course are to provide engineers with an introduction to some of the unique and unusual properties of water. The course examines the causes of these unique and unusual properties and explores some of the practical applications and natural consequences. The course is designed to provide two (2) professional development hours (PDH) of continuing education.

Course Introduction

To the average person, water is a common and ordinary substance which is often taken for granted, that is until a drought threatens crops and drinking water supplies or a severe flood destroys life and property. Most people do not understand that without water and its unique and unusual properties, life as we know it on earth would not exist. One of the earliest Greek philosophers, Thales of Miletus (640-546 B.C.), observed the universal nature of water. Thales believed that water was the basic element from which everything began – “the seeds of everything have a moist nature”. The abundance of water was apparent, but it was also observed that water was the only substance naturally present on earth simultaneously in three distinct states or forms– solid, liquid, and gas. On a cold winter day, snow and ice cover a field, while water flows in a nearby stream and gaseous clouds float overhead.

Course Content

The course content is in a PDF file (48 KB) Unusual Properties.pdf. You need to open or download this document to study this course.

The table of content of this course is as follows:

The Unique and Unusual Properties of Water


Forms of Matter
Boiling and Freezing Points
Solid Phase
Heat Capacity
Latent Heats of Fusion and Evaporation
Universal Solvent
Surface Tension
Medium of Life
Chemical Bonding

Course Summary

To the average person, water is an ordinary substance often taken for granted. Even though the cause of these unique and unusual properties is explainable at the atomic level, water is truly a remarkable substance. From our examination of these properties, it is evident that water is essential for life, as we know it, to exist on earth. Water is the mediator of chemical and biochemical processes. Water shapes our natural environment and even mediates our climate and weather.

Once you finish studying the above course content you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

Take a Quiz

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered professional engineer. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.