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Oil and water don’t like to mix. It is not because of their relative densities—substances with different densities can mix readily as long as they are miscible, or capable of being mixed in any proportion. (Miscible liquids of different densities just mix to form a substance with an intermediate density.) The enmity between water and oil stems from the fact that water molecules are dipolar, with positive and negative charges on opposite sides, while the long hydrocarbon chains that make up oil are nonpolar, attracted to each other by the weak van der Waals force. They don’t actually repel water molecules, they ignore them—while water is attracted to its own kind through much stronger hydrogen bonding and moves away from oil because of density differences. That is lucky for us, because it makes petroleum production possible.

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