What Happens to the Molecules of Water When an Ice Cube Melts?


Water is a peculiar substance on a chemical level. Its chemical structure allows it to form bonds easily, and because of this, water is commonly found in three phases on Earth: solid, liquid and gas. The act of ice melting is actually a phase change in water, moving from solid to liquid, and the change happens on a molecular level.

Composition of Water

  • Water always consists of three atoms: two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. These atoms form one molecule of water, which has some peculiar properties. One of the most notable properties of water is that it is a polar molecule. That is, the oxygen atom in the molecule attracts more electrons than the hydrogen atoms, which means that the molecule has more electrons on the end with the oxygen atom. This molecule also forms a unique bent shape.

States of Matter

  • Matter can exist in four states: solid, liquid, gas and plasma, although plasma is not a common state for matter. These states all have different properties. Water can exist as its liquid form, water; its solid form, ice; and its gaseous form, steam or vapor. All of these states of matter consist of water molecules that have one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. The only difference between states of matter is the amount of energy that the matter contains. Solids have little energy, liquids have more energy and gases have a lot of energy.


  • Ice is the solid form of water. Ice feels cold because it lacks energy. Molecules that have little energy do not move very much. This means that the atoms can interact with each other in unusual ways. In this case, water is made from polar molecules. The polarity of water allows for the molecules to form bonds called hydrogen bonds between a hydrogen atom from one molecule and an oxygen atom from another. In an ideal situation, each oxygen atom in a molecule in ice bonds with a hydrogen atom from another molecule, creating a crystalline structure.


  • Melting is a phase change, moving from solid to liquid. When energy is added to ice in the form of heat, the molecules in the ice become more active. This means that, although the oxygen and hydrogen atoms are still attracted to each other, the amount of energy in the water molecules is enough for them to move past each other and not form a crystalline structure. The ice loses its form and transitions from a solid to liquid phase.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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