Chapter 3

The Second Step On The Path To Matter: Molecules

Introduction
The Formation Adventure of the Atom
The Signs of the Qur'an
The Structure Of The Atom
The Second Step On The Path To Matter: Molecules
An Interesting Property of Water
Power Of The Atom
Atoms That Come Alive
Feeding And Hunting
Conclusion

What is it that makes the objects you see in your surroundings different from each other? What is it that discriminates their colours, shapes, smells, and tastes? Why is one substance soft, another hard, and yet another fluid? From what you have read so far, you may answer these questions saying, "The differences between their atoms do this". Yet, this answer is not sufficient, because if the atoms were the cause for these differences, then there would have to be billions of atoms bearing different properties from each other. In practice, this is not so. Many materials look different and bear different properties although they contain the same atoms. The reason for this is the different chemical bonds the atoms form among them to become molecules.

On the way to matter, molecules are the second step after atoms. Molecules are the smallest units determining the chemical properties of matter. These small bodies are made up of two or more atoms and some, of thousands of groups of atoms. Atoms are held together inside molecules by chemical bonds determined by the electromagnetic force of attraction, which means that these bonds are formed on the basis of the electrical charges of the atoms. The electrical charges of atoms, in turn, are determined by the electrons on their outermost shell. The arrangement of molecules in different combinations give rise to the diversity of matter we see around us. The importance of the chemical bonds that lie at the heart of the diversity of matter come forward at this very point.

ChemIcal Bonds

As explained above, chemical bonds are formed through the motion of electrons in the outermost electron shells of the atoms. Each atom has a tendency to fill up its outermost shell with the maximum number of electrons it may shelter. The maximum number of electrons the atoms can hold in their outermost shells is 8. To do this, atoms either receive electrons from other atoms to complete the electrons in their outermost shells to eight, or if they have lesser electrons in their outermost shells, then they give these to another atom, making a sub-shell that had previously been completed in their outermost orbits. The tendency of the atoms to exchange electrons constitutes the basic inciting force of the chemical bonds they form between each other.

This driving force, that is, the objective of the atoms to raise the number of electrons in their outermost shells to maximum, causes an atom to form three types of bonds with other atoms. These are the ionic bond, covalent bond and metallic bond.

Commonly, special bonds categorised under the general title of "weak bonds" act between molecules. These bonds are weaker than the bonds formed by atoms to constitute molecules because molecules need more flexible structures to form matter.

Let us now, in brief, see the properties of these bonds and how they are formed.

IonIc Bonds

Atoms combined by this bond swap electrons to complete the number of electrons in their outermost shells to eight. Atoms having up to four electrons in their outermost shells give these electrons to the atom with which they are going to combine, that is, with which they will bond. Atoms having more than four electrons in their outermost shells receive electrons from the atoms with which they will bond. Molecules formed by this type of bond have crystal (cubic) structures. Familiar table salt (NaCl) molecules are among substances formed by this bond. Why do atoms have such a tendency? What would happen if they did not have it?

Until today, the bonds formed by atoms could be defined only in very general terms. It has not yet been understood why atoms adhere to this principle. Could it be that atoms decide by themselves that the number of electrons in their outermost shells should be eight? Definitely not. This is such decisive behaviour that it goes beyond the atom, because it has no intellect, will, or consciousness. This number is the key in the combination of atoms as molecules that constitute the first step in the creation of the matter, and eventually, the universe. If atoms did not have such a tendency based on this principle, molecules, and in turn, matter would not exist. Yet, from the first moment they were created, atoms have been serving in the formation of molecules and matter in a perfect manner thanks to this tendency.

Covalent Bonds

Scientists who studied the bonds between atoms faced an interesting situation. While some atoms swap electrons for bonding, some of them share the electrons in their outermost shells. Further research revealed that many molecules that are of critical importance for life owe their existence to these 'covalent' bonds.

Let us give a simple example to explain covalent bonds better. As we mentioned previously on the subject of electron shells, atoms can carry a maximum of two electrons in their innermost electron shells. The hydrogen atom has a single electron and it has the tendency to increase the number of its electrons to two to become a stable atom. Therefore, the hydrogen atom forms a covalent bond with a second hydrogen atom. That is, the two hydrogen atoms share each other's single electron as a second electron. Thus, the H2 molecule is formed.

MetallIc Bonds

If a large number of atoms come together by sharing each others' electrons, this is called a "metallic bond". Metals like iron, copper, zinc, aluminium, etc., that form the raw material of many tools and instruments we see around us or use in daily life, have acquired a substantial and tangible body as a result of the metallic bonds formed by the atoms constituting them.

Scientists are not able to answer the question as to why electrons in the electron shells of the atoms have such a tendency. Living organisms, most interestingly, owe their existence to this tendency.

The Next Step:Compounds

Do you wonder how many different compounds these bonds can form?

In laboratories, new compounds are produced everyday. Currently, it is possible to talk about almost two million compounds. The simplest chemical compound can be as small as the hydrogen molecule, while there are also compounds made up of millions of atoms.1

How many different compounds can an element form at most? The answer to this question is quite interesting because, on the one hand, there are certain elements that do not interact with any others (inert gases), while, on the other hand, there is the carbon atom that is able to form 1,700,000 compounds. As stated above, the total number of compounds is about two million. 108 elements out of the total of 109 form 300,000 compounds. Carbon, however, forms 1,700,000 compounds all by itself in a most amazing fashion.

Carbon atom

The BuIldIng Block of LIfe: the "Carbon" Atom

Carbon is the most vital element for living beings, because all living organisms are constructed from compounds of carbon. Numerous pages would not be enough to describe the properties of the carbon atom, which is extremely important for our existence. Nor has the science of chemistry yet been able to discover all of its properties. Here we will mention only a few of the very important properties of carbon.

Structures as diverse as the cell membrane, the horns of an elk, the trunk of a redwood, the lens of the eye, and the venom of a spider are composed of carbon compounds. Carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen in many different quantities and geometric arrangements, results in a vast assortment of materials with vastly different properties. So, what is the reason for carbon's ability to form approximately 1.7 million compounds?

One of the most significant properties of carbon is its ability to form chains very easily by lining carbon atoms up one after another. The shortest carbon chain is made up of two carbon atoms. Despite the unavailability of an exact figure on the number of carbons that make up the longest carbon chain, we can talk about a chain with seventy links. If we consider that the atom that can form the longest chain after the carbon atom is the silicon atom forming six links, the exceptional position of the carbon atom will be better understood.2

Diamond, which is a very valuable stone, is a derivative of carbon, which is otherwise commonly found in nature as graphite.


The reason for carbon's ability to form chains with so many links is because its chains are not exclusively linear. Chains may be branched, as they may also form polygons.

At this point, the form of the chain plays a very important role. In two carbon compounds, for example, if the carbon atoms are the same in number yet combined in different forms of chains, two different substances are formed. The abovementioned characteristics of the carbon atom produce molecules that are critical for life.

Some carbon compounds' molecules consist of just a few atoms; others contain thousands or even millions. Also, no other element is as versatile as carbon in forming molecules with such durability and stability. To quote David Burnie in his book Life:

Carbon is a very unusual element. Without the presence of carbon and its unusual properties, it is unlikely that there would be life on Earth.3

Concerning the importance of carbon for living beings, the British chemist Nevil Sidgwick writes in Chemical Elements and Their Compounds:

Carbon is unique among the elements in the number and variety of the compounds which it can form. Over a quarter of a million have already been isolated and described, but this gives a very imperfect idea of its powers, since it is the basis of all forms of living matter. 4

The class of compounds formed exclusively from carbon and hydrogen are called "hydrocarbons". This is a huge family of compounds that include natural gas, liquid petroleum, kerosene, and lubricating oils. The hydrocarbons ethylene and propylene form the basis of the petrochemical industry. Hydrocarbons like benzene, toluene, and turpentine are familiar to anyone who's worked with paints. The naphthalene that protects our clothes from moths is another hydrocarbon. Hydrocarbons combined with chlorine or fluorine form anaesthetics, the chemicals used in fire extinguishers and the Freons used in refrigeration.

As the chemist Sidgwick stated above, the human mind is insufficient to fully understand the potential of this atom that has only six protons, six neutrons and six electrons. It is impossible for even a single property of this atom, which is vital for life, to form by chance. The carbon atom, like everything else, has been created by Allah perfectly adapted for the bodies of living beings, which Allah encompasses down to their very atoms.

What is in the heavens and in the earth belongs to Allah. Allah encompasses all things.
(Surat an-Nisa': 126)

Intermolecular Bonds: Weak Bonds

The bonds combining the atoms in molecules are much stronger than these weak intermolecular bonds. These bonds can help the formation of millions, and even billions of kinds of molecules.

Well, how do molecules combine to form matter?

Since molecules become stable after their formation, they no longer swap atoms.

So, what holds them together?

Proteins have to have a special three-dimensional configuration to perform their critical roles in our bodies. Weak bonds between molecules form these structures.

In an effort to answer this question, chemists produced different theories. Research showed that molecules are able to combine in different ways depending on the properties of the atoms in their composition.

These bonds are very important for organic chemistry, which is the chemistry of living beings, because the most important molecules constituting life are formed due to their ability to form these bonds. Let us take the example of proteins. The complex three-dimensional shapes of proteins, which are the building blocks of living things, are formed thanks to these bonds. This means that the weak chemical bond between molecules is at least as necessary as the strong chemical bond between atoms for the formation of life. Certainly, the strength of these bonds must be of a certain measure.

We can continue with the protein example. Molecules called amino acids combine to form proteins, which are much larger molecules. The atoms forming amino acids are combined by covalent bonds. Weak bonds combine these amino acids in such a way as to produce three-dimensional patterns. Proteins can function in living organisms only if they have these three dimensional patterns. Therefore, if these bonds did not exist, neither would the proteins, or, therefore, life exist.

The "hydrogen" bond, a type of weak bond, plays a major role in the formation of materials that bear great importance in our lives. For instance, the molecules forming water, which is the basis of life, are combined by hydrogen bonds.


A MIracle Molecule:Water

A liquid specifically chosen for life - "water" - covers two-thirds of our earth. The bodies of all living beings on the earth are formed of this very special liquid at a ratio ranging between 50%-95%. From bacteria living in springs with temperatures close to the boiling point of water, to some special mosses on melting glaciers, life is present everywhere where there is water, no matter at what temperature. Even in a single droplet hung on a leaf after rain, thousands of microscopic living organisms emerge, reproduce, and die.

How would the earth look if there were no water? Certainly, everywhere there would be desert. There would be abysses and horrific pits, in place of seas. The sky would seem cloudless and have a strange colour.

In fact, it is extremely difficult for water, the basis of life on earth, to form. First, let us imagine that hydrogen and oxygen molecules, which are the components of water, are put in a glass bowl. Let us leave them in the bowl for a very long time. These gases may still not form water even if they remain in the bowl for hundreds of years. Even if they do, it would not be more than a very small amount at the very bottom of the bowl and that would happen in a very slow fashion, maybe over thousands of years.

The reason why water forms so slowly under these circumstances is temperature. At room temperature, oxygen and hydrogen react very slowly.

If water did not have the property of freezing from the surface downwards, a major portion of the seas would be frozen within a year and life in the sea would be endangered.

Oxygen and hydrogen, when free, are found as H2 and O2 molecules. To combine to form the water molecule, they must collide. As a result of this collision, the bonds forming the hydrogen and oxygen molecules weaken, leaving no hindrance for the combination of oxygen and hydrogen atoms. Temperature raises the energy and therefore, the speed of these molecules, resulting in an increase in the number of collisions. Thus, it accelerates the course of the reaction. However, currently, no temperature high enough to form water exists on earth. The heat required for the formation of water was supplied during the formation of the earth, which resulted in the emergence of so much water as to cover three quarters of the earth's urface. At present, water evaporates and rises to the atmosphere where it cools and returns to the earth in the form of rain. That is, there is no increase in the quantity; only a perpetual cycle.

The MIraculous PropertIes of Water

Water has many exceptional chemical properties. Every water molecule forms by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. It is quite interesting that these two gases, one combustive and the other combustible, combine to form a liquid, and most interestingly, water.

Now, let us briefly see how water is formed chemically. The electrical charge of water is zero, that is, it is neutral. Yet, due to the sizes of the oxygen and hydrogen atoms, the oxygen component of the water molecule has a slightly negative charge and its hydrogen component has a slightly positive charge. When more than one water molecule come together, positive and negative charges attract each other to form a very special bond called "the hydrogen bond". The hydrogen bond is a very weak bond and it is incomprehensibly short-lived. The duration of a hydrogen bond is approximately one hundred billionth of a second. But as soon as a bond breaks, another one forms. Thus, water molecules adhere tightly to each other while also retaining their liquid form because they are combined with a weak bond.

Hydrogen bonds also enable water to resist temperature changes. Even if air temperature increases suddenly, water temperature increases slowly and, similarly, if air temperature falls suddenly, water temperature drops slowly. Large temperature changes are needed to cause considerable changes in water temperature. The significantly high thermal energy of water has major benefits for life. To give a simple example, there is a great amount of water in our bodies. If water adapted to the sudden vicissitudes of temperature in the air at the same rate, we would suddenly develop fevers or freeze.

By the same token, water needs a huge thermal energy to evaporate. Since water uses up a great deal of thermal energy while evaporating, its temperature drops. To give an example, again from the human body, the normal temperature of the body is 360 C and the highest body temperature we can tolerate is 420 C. This 60 C interval is indeed very small and even working under the sun for a few hours can increase body temperature by that amount. Yet, our bodies spend a great amount of thermal energy through sweating, that is, by causing the water it contains to evaporate, which in turn causes body temperature to drop. If our bodies did not have such an automatic mechanism, working for even a few hours under the sun could be fatal.

Hydrogen bonds equip water with yet another extraordinary property, which is water's being more viscous in its liquid state than in its solid state. As a matter of fact, most substances on earth are more viscous in their solid states than in their liquid states. Contrary to other substances, however, water expands as it freezes. This is because hydrogen bonds prevent water molecules from bonding to each other too tightly, and thus many gaps are left in between them. Hydrogen bonds are broken down when water is in liquid state, which causes oxygen atoms to come closer to each other and form a more viscous structure.

This also causes ice to be lighter than water. Normally, if you melt any metal and throw in it a few solid pieces of the same metal, these pieces would sink directly to the bottom. In water, however, things are different. Icebergs weighing ten thousands of tons float on water like corks. So, what benefit can this property of water provide us?

Let us answer this question with the example of a river: When the weather is very cold, it is not the whole river, but only the surface of it that freezes. Water reaches its heaviest state at + 40 C, and as soon as it reaches this temperature, it immediately sinks to the bottom. Ice is formed on top of water as a layer. Under this layer, water continues to flow, and since + 40C is a temperature at which living organisms can survive, life in water continues.

These unique properties which Allah has given water make life possible on the earth. In the Qur'an, Allah states the importance of this great blessing He offers man:

It is He Who sends down water from the sky. From it you drink and from it come the shrubs among which you graze your herds. And by it He makes crops grow for you and olives and dates and grapes and fruit of every kind. There is certainly a Sign in that for people who reflect. (Surat an-Nahl: 10-11)


1. L. Vlasov, D. Trifonov, 107 Stories About Chemistry, 1977, p. 117
2. L. Vlasov, D. Trifonov, 107 Stories About Chemistry, 1977, p. 118
3. David Burnie, Life, Eyewitness Science, London: Dorling Kindersley, 1996, p.8
4. Nevil V. Sidgwick, The Chemical Elements and Their Compounds, vol.1, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950, p.490

Allah is Known Through Reason
The Creation of the Universe
Allah's Artistry in Colour
For Men of Understanding
The Design in Nature
The Miracle in the Ant
The Miracle in the Atom
The Miracle of the Immune System
The Miracle in the Spider
The Secrets of DNA
The Miracle of the Creation in Plants
The Existence of God
Tell Me About the Creation

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