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Capillary action

Even if you've never heard of capillary action, it is still important in your life. Capillary action is important for moving water (and all of the things that are dissolved in it) around. It is defined as the movement of water within the spaces of a porous material due to the forces of adhesion, cohesion, and surface tension.

Capillary action occurs because water is sticky -- water molecules stick to each other and to other substances, such as glass, cloth, organic tissues, and soil. Dip a paper towel into a glass of water and the water will "climb" onto the paper towel. In fact, it will keep going up the towel until the pull of gravity is too much for it to overcome.

This is more important than you think. Consider:
  • When you spill your glass of BubblyBerryPowerGo (which is, of course, mostly water) on the kitchen table you rush to get a paper towel to wipe it up before your parents see it. First, you can thank surface tension, which keeps the liquid in a nice puddle on the table, instead of a thin film of sugary goo that spreads out onto the floor. When you put the paper towel onto your mess the liquid attaches itself to the paper fibers.

  • Plants and trees couldn't thrive without capillary action. Plants put down roots into the soil which are capable of carrying water from the soil up into the plant. Water, which contains dissolved nutrients, gets inside the roots and starts climbing up the plant tissue. As water molecule #1 starts climbing, it pulls along water molecule #2, which, of course, is dragging water molecule #3, and so on.

  • Think of the tiniest blood vessels in your body -- your capillaries. Your blood is mostly water, and capillary action assists the pumping action of your heart to help keep blood moving in your blood vessels.
Drippies in a long line

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Last Modified: Feb 03, 2000
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