Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterEvery object that is made of matter is held together by a series of forces. What the force is depends on what scale you are observing matter. Most people who study chemistry or physics know that forces like the strong weak force and the gravitiational force act to bring all matter in the universe together in different ways. However you may overlook the more practical bonds like the ones between molecules, the groups of atoms that make up most chemical compounds. This force is important because the interactions that it causes is the basis of chemistry it is called the Van Der Waals force.
The Van Der Waals Force to put it simply is the sum of the negative and positive charges between different molecules. Just like the net charges of electrons shells makes bonds between atoms, The Van Der Waals force does the same for molecules. A common mistake is to lump it with covalent and ionic bonds on that make up molecules. These are are different because they deal with the charges of electrons whether it is sharing an electron in a covalent bond or giving up electrons in a stronger ionic bond. Van Der Waals is a relatively weaker force arising from the net charges produced by all the atoms in a molecule together.
THe net charges in a molecule produce poles. These dipoles act just like the two poles of a magnet however instead of North and South it is positive and negative charges. The force is much weaker than an atomic bond but has important cosequences for chemsistry. This bond helps to form crucial structures in biology such organic compounds and is also of interest in industrial scienes creating substances and compounds that have very unique properties. A great example would be Carbon nanotubes.
As you can see the Van Der Waal force is very important even if it is not as strong as other forces that hold matter together. They show the power of various bonds in governing the interactions between bodies of matter and how they affect the larger universe. In more practical matters understandign the Van Der Waal can lead to new breakthroughs in Energy and other cuttting edge industries that help move the world toward new economies.
We have written many articles about Van Der Waals for Universe Today. Here’s an article about atomic radius, and here’s an article about the atomic force microscope.
If you’d like more info on Van Der Waals, check out these articles from Chem Guide and Wikipedia.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about the Atom. Listen here, Episode 164: Inside the Atom.