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Getting a liquid bounce.

To the naked eye, a liquid's surface appears extremely smooth. But to an atom or a small molecule crashing into such a surface, the microscopic, undulating contours of the molecules making up the liquid present a bumpy landing field. As a result of precisely where they make contact, the incoming missiles may bounce off, stick to, or even react with the liquid's molecules.

By studying the way bombarding atoms and molecules interact with liquid surfaces, researchers can gain insights into the factors that determine how liquids and gases interact. "Our goal is to understand what the surfaces of liquids look like and feel like on an atomic scale" says Gilbert M. Nathanson, a chemist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In one set of experiments, Nathanson and his co-workers have discovered that the old notion that "like dissolves like" which suggests why water mixes with alcohol but not with oil also applies in some sense to the interaction between gases and liquids. For example, molecules of heavy water, in which deuterium replaces hydrogen, readily get trapped in concentrated sulfuric acid. Nonetheless, despite the great affinity of sulfuric acid for water, a significant fraction of the bombarding molecules of heavy water bounce off instead of sticking. Even molecules coming in at relatively slow speeds sometimes survive collisions and rebound. This suggests that solubility by itself may not be the key factor in determining what happens in a collision, Nathanson says.
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Title Annotation:interaction of liquids and gases
Author:Peterson, Ivars
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Apr 3, 1993
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