Nonpolar Molecule: Definition & Examples

Nonpolar Molecule: Definition & Examples
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  • 0:02 Definition of a…
  • 1:01 Examples of Nonpolar Molecules
  • 1:43 Respiration and How It Relates
  • 2:48 Energy Storage
  • 3:22 Hormone Communication
  • 3:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, you'll learn what nonpolar molecules are and how to distinguish them from polar molecules. You'll also see several examples of important nonpolar molecules in our body and learn what their functions are.

Definition of a Nonpolar Molecule

Picture a bottle or bowl of fresh Italian salad dressing. If you've let it sit out on the table, you'll probably notice that it separates into two layers, oil and water. The oil is nonpolar, meaning it doesn't mix with water. We also refer to nonpolar molecules as hydrophobic, or water fearing. The opposite type of molecule is a polar molecule, which is hydrophilic, or water loving.

The basis of polar and nonpolar molecules comes from charges on the atoms in the molecules. Atoms are made of small particles. The center of the atom, or nucleus, is made up of neutrons, which have no charge, and protons, which have a positive charge.

When atoms bond together to form molecules, they share or give electrons. If the electrons are shared equally by the atoms, then there is no resulting charge, and the molecule is nonpolar. Polar molecules are the opposite and have a positive or negative charge.

Examples of Nonpolar Molecules

An example of a nonpolar molecule is methane gas. Methane is produced by bacteria in our gut that break down food and is released as a gas. That gas is actually what comes out during flatulence, commonly known as farting. Methane is composed of one carbon atom bound to four hydrogen atoms. These atoms all share electrons equally, so there is no charge on this stinky molecule, making it nonpolar.

Inside our body, we have polar and nonpolar molecules. Both are extremely important for us to stay alive, and today we'll look at three examples of processes that use nonpolar molecules: respiration, energy storage, and hormone communication.

Respiration and How It Relates

Take a deep breath in and out. This calming process is called respiration. When you inhale, oxygen comes into your lungs, and when you exhale, carbon dioxide leaves. The reason this process happens is because oxygen and carbon dioxide are both nonpolar molecules.

When oxygen enters our lungs, it must diffuse, or move through, the lung cells and the cells that make up our blood vessels to actually get into the blood. The outer barrier, or cell membrane, of the cells is made of a nonpolar layer of molecules. Only small molecules that are also nonpolar can move freely throughout the membrane.

Polar molecules don't mix with the nonpolar barrier, like how oil doesn't mix with water in salad dressing. But because oxygen is small and nonpolar, it easily diffuses through the cells in the lungs to get to our blood. The reverse process happens with carbon dioxide. It diffuses from our blood into our lungs through the cells. If these molecules weren't nonpolar, we wouldn't be able to get oxygen into our body!

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