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Dissolving Process

Describes solution formation and interaction of solute with water

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Dissolving Process

To make coffee more enjoyable, sugar and cream are often dissolved in coffee

Credit: Jon-Isac Lindberg (Wikimedia: Gmurdoc)
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_cup_of_black_coffee.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

How do you take your coffee?

Many people like to start their day with a cup of coffee (others need coffee all day long in order to get anything done).  The coffee you drink is a type of solution, often a very complex one.  The coffee itself has been brewed so that material from the coffee bean will dissolve in hot water.  Some people add sugar, while others add milk or cream.  In some areas of the country, lattes are popular; so one or more special flavors might be added along with the milk.  Whatever the situation, the end-result is an enjoyable solution to drink.

The Dissolving Process

Water typically dissolves many ionic compounds and polar molecules.  Nonpolar molecules such as those found in grease or oil do not dissolve in water.  We will first examine the process that occurs when an ionic compound such as table salt (sodium chloride) dissolves in water.

Water molecules move about continuously due to their kinetic energy.  When a crystal of sodium chloride is placed into water, the water’s molecules collide with the crystal lattice.  Recall that the crystal lattice is composed of alternating positive and negative ions.  Water is attracted to the sodium chloride crystal because water is polar and has both a positive and a negative end.  The positively charged sodium ions in the crystal attract the oxygen end of the water molecules because they are partially negative.  The negatively charged chloride ions in the crystal attract the hydrogen end of the water molecules because they are partially positive.  The action of the polar water molecules takes the crystal lattice apart (see image below).

When salt dissolves, the component ions are surrounded by water molecules

Credit: CK-12 Foundation - Christopher Auyeung
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

After coming apart from the crystal, the individual ions are then surrounded by solvent particles in a process called solvation Note that the individual Na+ ions are surrounded by water molecules with the oxygen atom oriented near the positive ion.  Likewise, the chloride ions are surrounded by water molecules with the opposite orientation.  Hydration is the process of solute particles being surrounded by water molecules arranged in a specific manner.  Hydration helps to stabilize aqueous solutions by preventing the positive and negative ions from coming back together and forming a precipitate.

Table sugar is sucrose (C12H22O11) and is an example of a molecular compound.  Solid sugar consists of individual sugar molecules held together by intermolecular attractive forces.  When water dissolves sugar, it separates the individual sugar molecules by disrupting the attractive forces, but does not break the covalent bonds between the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.  Dissolved sugar molecules are also hydrated, but without as distinct an orientation to the water molecules as in the case of the ions. The sugar molecule contains many -OH groups that can form hydrogen bonds with the water molecules, helping form the sucrose solution.


  • Motion of water molecules helps break up interactions between solid ions or molecules.
  • Solvation involves surrounding ions with solvent particles.
  • Ionic solute molecules are hydrated (surrounded by solvent molecules in a specific orientation).


  1. How does the motion of water molecules help form a solution?
  2. What is solvation?
  3. What is hydration?
  4. How does sucrose interact with solvent water molecules?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Jon-Isac Lindberg (Wikimedia: Gmurdoc); Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_cup_of_black_coffee.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: CK-12 Foundation - Christopher Auyeung; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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