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Ask Ethan: What’s the quantum reason that sodium and water react?

12 Aug 2017, 14:01 UTC
Ask Ethan: What’s the quantum reason that sodium and water react?
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Placing a chunk of sodium metal in contact with water results in a violent, and often explosive, reaction. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Tavoromann.Drop a chunk of sodium metal into water, and a violent reaction ensues. But it’s more than just chemistry at play.“Chlorine is a deadly poison gas employed on European battlefields in World War I. Sodium is a corrosive metal which burns upon contact with water. Together they make a placid and unpoisonous material, table salt. Why each of these substances has the properties it does is a subject called chemistry.” -Carl SaganSometimes, we learn things early on in life, and simply accept that’s how the world works. Drop a chunk of pure sodium in water, for example, and the reaction is legendary in its violence. As soon as you get that chunk of metal wet, the reaction fizzes and heats up, the sodium bounces around on the surface of the water, and even flames are produced. Sure, it’s just chemistry. But at a fundamental level, isn’t there something more going on? That’s what our reader Семен Стопкин (Semen Stopkin, from Russia) wants to know:Which forces drive chemical reactions, and what takes place on a quantum level? In ...

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