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Photonics Dictionary

hydrophobic

Hydrophobic is a term used to describe substances or materials that repel or do not readily interact with water. The word hydrophobic comes from the Greek words "hydro," meaning water, and "phobos," meaning fear. Hydrophobic substances typically have nonpolar molecules or regions in their structure, which means there is an even distribution of charge.

Water is a polar molecule, with oxygen attracting electrons more strongly than hydrogen. Hydrophobic substances are often nonpolar or have nonpolar portions that cannot form favorable interactions with water molecules. Instead, they tend to clump together or form separate phases in the presence of water, exhibiting behaviors like beading or repelling water.

Common examples of hydrophobic substances include oils, fats, and many organic compounds that lack polar functional groups. The hydrophobic effect plays a crucial role in various biological and industrial processes, including the formation of cell membranes, the self-assembly of certain molecules, and the design of water-repellent materials. In contrast, substances that readily interact with water and are soluble in it are termed hydrophilic. Understanding the interplay between hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties is essential in fields such as chemistry, biology, and materials science.

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