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The Sound of Science - "What's in the Water?"

Welcome to the Sound of Science on WNIJ. I’m Sam Watt from NIU STEM Outreach

Sam: Samantha wants to know what water is made of. Luckily, I have Chemist and known water drinker Kate Powers here. Well Kate? What’s water made of?

Kate: Water molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. They–

Sam: There we have it! This has been the Sound of Science on WNIJ where you learn–

Kate: No, wait, we’re not done! Water molecules are pretty straight forward, but there’s so much more to the water we know, love and drink. Have you heard of heavy water? Did you notice that some waters taste different than others? Or happens to your body when you drink distilled water?

Sam: Heavy water? Is that like water with an electric guitar and back beat?

Kate: Heavy water is still made up of hydrogen and oxygen, but the hydrogen is a little different. Most hydrogen atoms are just one proton and one electron, but some hydrogen atoms carry an extra chunk called a neutron. Neutrons are found in every other element, but hydrogen doesn’t actually need then. When hydrogen does have the extra neutron, it weighs about twice as much as regular hydrogen. When these heavy hydrogen atoms, which we call deuterium, are used to make water, we call it heavy water. Heavy water isn’t much heavier than regular water, but we use it to make some nuclear reactions safer and more stable.

Sam: So pure water can be different from other pure waters. Interesting…

Kate: Speaking of purity, have you had really good water? That tasty water isn’t pure. Actually, quite the opposite.

Sam: Whaaa…?

Kate: Those impurities give a little bit of flavor. Calcium and iron lend a bit of sweetness. On the flip side, sulfur can give water a nasty taste and smell. It doesn’t take much to change the flavor of water.

Sam: What does truly pure water taste like then?

Kate: Pretty much like nothing, and some people like that. But we have to be careful drinking distilled and other purified water. Ions like sodium, potassium, and iodine are crucial for the cells in our bodies to function. Pure water doesn’t have those ions, so our cells can accidentally release them to try to balance out the body. But then we lose those ions from our breath, sweat, and urine.

Sam: Sounds like we’re just dipping our toes into the water on this one! Hear more about the science in your life next week. Keep those questions coming by emailing us at STEMOutreach@niu.edu.

Kate: This has been the Sound of Science on WNIJ.

Sam: Where you learn something new everyday.  

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