Sometimes, a seemingly simple question can captivate the entire Internet.
In February 2015, a photo now referred to as “The Dress” became an overnight sensation, causing many to argue over whether a dress was blue and black or white and gold.
Whether you were pushing your point on social media or arguing with loved ones at home, there seemed to be no common ground on this opinionated debate — and although the right answer may have felt obvious to you, there was actually a scientific reason some users perceived the photo differently.
Although not every Internet debate has such a scientific solution, we’re here to settle some of these issues once and for all.
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Is water wet?
According to Google Trends, this query peaked in late November and early December 2017, when arguments about the topic took hold of social media.
Because there are strong arguments on both sides, we're going straight to an impartial expert: Dr. Diana Glick, professor and director of the Undergraduate Studies Department of Chemistry at Georgetown University.
Glick answers the question how she thinks the scientific world would address it: “Technically,” she says, “water isn’t wet because water is a wetting agent.”
Glick says people can decide for themselves which definition of “wet” they prefer, but for scientific purposes, water is not wet.
Do dictionaries say water is wet?
According to Oxford Languages, the dictionary company which provides Google’s featured definitions of words, wet can be defined as, “Covered or saturated with water or another liquid.”
According to Merriam-Webster, wet is defined as, “consisting of, containing, covered with or soaked with liquid (such as water).”
Depending on which definition you prefer, you might be able to defend either answer to the question, but if you trust the expert, the answer is a firm no.
To those who argue whether water can be saturated with itself, Glick says, “People would normally talk about saturation in terms of a mixture. Something is saturated with something else. If something is saturated with itself, it’s 100% that thing. Saturation becomes a moot point.”
Water’s interactions with itself are actually different from its interactions with the objects and substances it wets. “Water with water has a cohesive interaction,” explains Glick, “and if water is attracted to something else, then that’s called adhesive. This concept of wetting is actually, to a scientist, the adhesive side.”
Because water has a cohesive interaction with itself, says Glick, it doesn’t wet itself. Instead, it forms hydrogen bonds between molecules to stick together.
Is fire burnt?
In a December 2017 viral video, YouTuber Chaz Smith compared the question, “Is water wet?” with another question: “Is fire burnt?”
First of all, Glick says the answer is no. “I feel like it’s super clear ... (Fire) is light,” she says.
Smith intended to create a parallel to the question, “Is water wet?” But Glick says these two questions are totally different.
The question about wetness is about a physical change, but the question about burning is about a chemical change. “When water wets something, it’s a physical thing. When you burn something, it’s a combustion reaction,” Glick explains. “Two things are combining, and you’re getting a new chemical product.”
Wetting a piece of paper is a physical change which does not result in a new substance — just a wet piece of paper. Burning a piece of paper, though, is a chemical change because it creates substances which were not previously present, like carbon dioxide, water vapor, smoke and ash, according to Topper Learning.
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Is a hot dog a sandwich?
According to Merriam-Webster, a hot dog is technically a sandwich if it is served in a split roll like a bun, as most hot dogs are.
According to Google Trends, this question peaked in September 2020.
Is cereal a soup?
The answer to this question is not as clear as the others.
According to Readers Digest, though, many point to milk-based soups. Some also bring up cold soups like gazpacho and cold cucumber soup, which are both served cold, to press the envelope and categorize cereal as a soup.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is water wet? Is a hot dog a sandwich? Settling viral debates.