Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Adhesion and Electric Current
Name: Rachel L.
Status: student
Age: 16
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Thursday, August 22, 2002

We are studying about the adhesion of water molecules and how the molecules have a tendency to "stick" to the sides of a cylinder because of charges. My conjecture was that if a beaker was partially filled with water and then a current was run through the beaker, the water would be more likely to be attracted to the sides of the beaker. Am I right in thinking this?

Rachel, I do not expect the current through the beaker to attract the water. Running current through a beaker does not add charge to the beaker. Current only causes charge within an object to move. For every electron a current adds to a beaker, another electron comes out the other end.

What just might cause something to happen is touching the beaker just above the water surface with a charged object, something with static electricity on it. Some of the static electricity transfers to the glass, but cannot go anywhere else. Sometimes a piece of glass rubbed with silk or a piece of hard plastic rubbed with fur will work. Touching a piece of plastic to a TV screen and then transferring the charge to the glass might work to.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College


Even though a water molecule is polar because the its charges are not symmetrically distributed, water itself is electrically neutral -- it has no net charge either (+) or (-). Check out the structure of a water molecule in an introductory chemistry book. You will find that it is rather like a four cornered pyramid with the oxygen atom in the center and with the two hydrogen atoms sticking out toward two of the corners of the pyramid. The oxygen atom carries two unshared pairs of electrons that stick out toward the other two corners of the pyramid. The result is a kind of electrical lopsidedness wherein the hydrogen atoms form a partially (+) side of the molecule and the unshared electron pairs make up the (-) side. So, even though water has a (+) and (-) side, the charge on one side is equal to the charge on the other -- thus, a net charge of zero.

Using your illustration, if it were possible to make one side of the beaker (+) and the other side (-), the water molecules in between would rotate so as to point the (+) end of their dipole toward the (-) side of the beaker and the (-) end of their dipole toward the (+) side of the beaker. Even so, there would be no net movement of all the water molecules toward either side because, for that to happen, the water molecule itself would have to have a charge -- either (+) or (-). In other words, IF the molecule had a net (+) charge, it would move toward the (-) side of the beaker and vice versa. Won't happen because, as described, the molecule has no net charge.

Reorientation of a neutral polar molecule an applied electrical field, is not the same thing as net movement toward either side of the field.

ProfHoff 473

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory