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This one weird trick will make scammers HATE you!

by MARS MORALES

You might already know about the dihydrogen monoxide hoax for its famous demonstration of the power of scientific illiteracy: say anything with long, scary words, and people will fear it.

“Dihydrogen monoxide, a main ingredient in pig urine, is in your food!” sounds terrifying if you don’t know it’s just talking about water.

But maybe you’re smarter than that! Psh!

Scammers know this, and they’re always working on new dangers to sell solutions for. Some genuine-sounding claims are that hexagonal water is better for you, and that negative ions are good for you (or deadly. It depends on who you ask).

But for only $599.99 you, too, can make crystal-filtered hexagonal water at home, not including the recurring cost to replace the crystal after it’s “spent!” (Major sarcasm here. Please do not do this.)

We like to think bogus claims will always be easy to spot, but scammers are insidious. I highly recommend grabbing a snack & pillows and watching some Periodic Videos, Vsauce, or Veritasium— there is no such thing as being too scientifically literate.

So here are short explanations of common “fancy terminology” you might find on packaging or being preached in real life.

What is an atom?

It’s the smallest you can break something down while still maintaining its “chemical identity.” Each atom’s (a = not, temnein = to cut) behavior is determined by how many protons, neutrons, and electrons it has. Pretty much everything is made up of atoms.

Break things down even more, and you’re waist-deep in physics.

If hexagonal water is fake, why are snowflakes six-sided?

When water molecules freeze, they are arranged like repeating 3-D hexagons. As more water freezes on the snowflake and it grows, the shape is maintained. This video explains it in depth very well.

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A representation of ice crystals.

However, liquid water molecules cannot stay “hexagonal” for more than 200 femtoseconds (or 1/5,000,000,000,000 of a second). Hence, it has no proven health benefits, since nobody can drink quite that fast.

Why does water form beads?

As in the first image, water molecules are lopsided. With negatively-charged electrons hanging out by one “pole” of the oxygen atom and hydrogen atoms on the other, each water molecule is like a very very tiny magnet. This is called the dipole moment (di = apart, palus = stick).

All of these tiny magnets are attracted to each other. This means that water molecules in the middle are attracted in many directions, but molecules at the edges are pulled inward, since there is (usually) nothing in the air that pulls on them as much as the other water molecules.

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Anatomy of a water droplet. It’s like one big group hug.

Is water affected by life-size magnets?

Yes! You can bend a stream of water with the static electricity in a balloon or comb. Watch a video example of this cool effect here.

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Positively charged molecules, bending the water desperately towards the negatively charged balloon!

Why are the hydrogens on a water molecule arranged like butt cheeks?

Because the “empty space” around the oxygen is not actually empty. Some people don’t draw the electrons, which exist in that “empty space” opposite the hydrogens. Those electrons are the reason why the cheeks are pushed to one side.

watermolecule
Another water molecule. This one’s bonds are represented by sticks. Each unlabeled gray ball is a pair of electrons (four total). Thank goodness water has two hydrogens and not one.

What are ions?

All elements of the same kind have the same number of protons. It’s like having the same identification number.

For example, all carbon atoms in the universe have six protons. That’s what makes them behave like carbon! One more, and you have nitrogen, one less, boron.

But you can play around with an atom’s number of electrons (essentially, all of chemistry is the study of electrons moving around between atoms).

Protons are positively charged, so atoms “want” to have an equal number of electrons (negatively charged) to balance things out. But you can’t always get what you want.

If you add up the charges and get 0, the atom has no net charge. Yay! But 6 protons (+6 charge) and 7 electrons (-7 charge) adds up to a net charge of -1. This doesn’t mean the atom is sick, evil, or cursed, it just has an excess of electrons. That is okay! Positively-charged things will want to be around it. 🙂

Likewise, having less electrons than what’s “wanted” results in a net positive charge.

Will positive/negative ions kill me?

No. Ions are a part of the universe, just like most everything else, and many life-sustaining processes involve them.

Will positive/negative ions improve my life?

If you’re scamming people into buying ion-adding or ion-eliminating machines for hundreds of dollars each, then I guess so.

But my hexagonal water machine WORKS!

Okay.

What about radioactive isotopes? *scary music*

Isotopes (iso = same) are atoms of the same element but with a different number of neutrons. These atoms have the same “ID number,” same number of protons, but different total masses. That’s it.

Usually, the number of neutrons is close to the number of protons, so different isotopes don’t weigh a whole lot more or less.

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A comical explanation of stable vs. unstable carbon atoms. The number after each “carbon” is its total mass. (Carbon 14 weighs 14 g/mol because 6 + 8 = 14)

We think of radioactivity as dangerous because sometimes the number of neutrons is a bit more than it can handle and the atom becomes unstable. It “wants” to get rid of stuff to make itself balanced, and by doing so it releases energy. Sometimes this energy damages human cells, which we call radiation poisoning.

How do I know this stuff is true? Anyone can make graphics.

First, congrats on the skepticism! Now you are thinking like a scientist.

Second, all of these facts can be proven in laboratories or even at home. Research some inexpensive experiments to demonstrate to you kids, friends, or even for personal investigation. Keep them simple and safe. Please do not sue me.

Water your qualifications to talk about this?

I just wanted to make the pun. But, I am a mechanical engineering student at New York University. My life and work is immersed in terminology most laypeople find very scary.

In my opinion it’s an engineer’s “Hippocratic oath” to keep people safe from dangers, including deception.

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