What's 'stronger': steel or water?

This was posed by someone at work today, as a trick question. Of course everyone says steel, but he says the real answer is water. Now, this guy’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, so I am wondering if this is true and why. One problem I have is the definition of “stronger,” but I figure someone else may have heard this question with a more precise adjective.

Maybe water has had a more emotionally satisfying upbringing, so it’s better able to withstand the ups and downs and the general vagaries of life.

While steel, on the other hand, was raised by alcoholic, abusive parents, dropped out of high school, and has been living on the streets, addicted to cocaine, unable to hold down a steady job.

What state is the water in? What state is the steel in? (For example, if the steel is in Oregon, while the water is in Idaho…) Or do they mean molecular strength? Steel atoms do not bond with each other very well, metallic bonds are considered week. However, from an engineering stand point, this question poses the tensile strength. Steel has a much higher tensile strength than water, and compression strength would be hard to measure, as water is a liquid. What is this guy’s definition of stronger? By just saying stronger, this guy might just be a few dozen short of a gross. :slight_smile:

Yeah, but body odor doesn’t count.

That sort of brings up a vaguely interesting question. My college physics teachers tell me that liqiuds are not compressible.Yet they remain oddly silent on the squishiness of solids. Are solids capable of being compressed? If they are, water (at room temperature), being a liquid would be stronger in some circumstances than steel, which is solid, and therefore (maybe) be subject to compression.
Or maybe not.
I could be oh so terribly mistaken.

You can cut steel with water under high pressure, but it’s very hard to cut water with steel.

“Really?”, I ask, watching the ice sculptor work his magic with a chisel, as I idly stick my knife in my glass of water.

Yes, I know it’s a stupid answer, but it IS an answer.
Ponder thinking up a better one yourself while trying to cut the water in your glass in half with a knife.

An “ideal” liquid isn’t compressible, but real liquids are to a small degree. This is why your car’s brake lines have hydraulic fluid instead of water, because the hydraulic fluid is less compressible and therefore more efficient at transmitting force. Solids are compressible too; diamonds are compressed carbon.

Also water would corrode the brake parts

an important detail is what temp. and pressure they are at (or range of temp)

‘Stronger’ is not complete by itself, stronger in tension, compression, torsion, ’ stronger molecular bonding, makes a ‘stronger’ explosion when converted to energy via E=mc^2.

you can argue both sides of this coin

Water is nearly as good as most other fluids at compressibility, any practical difference is very small. The real issues are:

  1. Rust.
  2. Boiling point. Your brakes get pretty hot pretty fast when braking. If your brake fluid flashes into steam, you have no brakes.

You’d have a hell of a time creating the Grand Canyon with steel.

Diamonds are not compressed carbon… diamond is composed entirely of tetrahedrally coordinated bonded carbon.

In other words, imagine a pyramid with a triangular base, rather than a square base - this is a tetrahedron. Now imagine that there is a Carbon atom at each point of the tetrahedron & one in the centre of the block. The central carbon forms a bond with each of the four edge carbons. Now imagine lots of these tetrahedra sitting next to each other, overlapping, still only one carbon at the points though, and you get the diamond structure. They are very short, strong bonds, but the diamond is not compressed Carbon.

I did try to look for diagrams for this, as it is a lot easier to see than it is to explain. I’ll try again later or I definitely have diagrams of this, so I can scan them if anyone is interested.

The reason why people tend to get confused about diamond & compression is because people tend to quote that a diamond is only coal that has undergone pressure. It’s sort of true…diamonds form deep in the Earth’s crust where heat & pressure cause this type of bond to be formed. Diamonds only tend to be carried to the Earth’s surface in explosive volcanic eruptions, along with a lava that turns into kimberlite, rather than in regular, slow flowing eruptions.

Water erodes mountains. Mountain detritus fills lakes.
Paper covers rock.

To address the OP:

Sqwerl, you say this guy isn’t the brightest bulb on the tree? I think everybody else is intellectualizing the question too much.

It sounds to me like the answer he’s looking for is probably, “Water is stronger than steel, because you can cut steel with water”. Then, when, as he anticipates, you beg to differ with him, he can tell you, with a nyah-nyah gleam in his eye, all about this article he just read in Popular Science blah blah blah, where they can actually use something called “abrasive jet water cutting” to cut through a piece of steel. And then you’re supposed to be SO impressed by his brilliance.

Alternatively, he may be looking for the more philosophical, “Because steel will eventually corrode and rust away to nothing, but water just recycles itself endlessly”. Is he a Greenpeace/Save the Whales person?

The last is my point exactly. Dripping water cuts holes in steel bathtubs.

Don’t diamond anvils make diamonds by compression? In fact, IIRC, I saw a picture that showed the anvil pushing on the carbon from 4 sides in a tetrahedral arrangement.

Ducq Ducq Goose:
Well, I meant more that it was probably some MindStorm (is that what that game’s called?) or Trivial Pursuit question where he got it. He’s not one to see something and derive a question like that from it. I was wondering if he was in any way correct, given different definitions of “stronger,” or if perhaps someone else had heard this question and could recall it better than him.
Also, today I asked someone else, who’s reasonably intelligent, and he said water’s stonger, because if you drop a rock from 100 stories onto water, it shatters; onto steel (presumably of the same mass as the aforementioned water), the steel dents. Is that a valid explanation? I don’t even know if it’s true.

That’s basically the same method as the natural formation - the pressure (which is different from compression itself), provides the carbon with the energy to break its current bonds, (if the starting material is carbon, it will be a mix of 3 covalent & 1 weak metallic bond per atom) and form the stronger 4 short covalent bonds in the diamond-tetrahedra structure. This may make it look like it is compressed, as this arrangement may be more compact, I’d have to look up my A level chemistry notes to check the bond lengths, but the carbon solid itself is not being compressed, just changing between chemical forms.

If you want to see bonds being broken by pressure, you can get a huge block of ice about an inch thick, clamp it in place & hand a wire with a heavy weight on each end over it. The pressure of the weight on the wire provides the energy to break the ice bonds & the ice returns to water form without raising temperature. The pressure on the wire does the same to the next bonds down & as the pressure releases on the upper ones, the water refreezes until you have a wire frozen in the middle of the ice block, working its way down. It’s the same principle, only since the diamond form (allotrope) of carbon is more energy efficient, and doesn’t depend on a state change at near equilibrium point, it is more stable, so it doesn’t change back again afterwards.

Water is stronger than steel because it is harder to carve a mountain than it is to cut shoe leather than a copper penny with the very same Ginsu.

Water gives life and steel takes it.

Water cuts steel, steel only chips away at ice.

If you were in the desert, the two most important things to have are water and a mirror.