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In chemistry, hydrophobicity is the physical property of a molecule (known as a hydrophobe) that is seemingly repelled from a mass of water. (Strictly speaking, there is no repulsive force involved; it is an absence of attraction.) In contrast, hydrophiles are attracted to water.

Hydrophobic molecules tend to be nonpolar and, thus, prefer other neutral molecules and nonpolar solvents. Because water molecules are polar, hydrophobes do not dissolve well among them. Hydrophobic molecules in water often cluster together, forming micelles. Water on hydrophobic surfaces will exhibit a high contact angle.

Examples of hydrophobic molecules include the alkanes, oils, fats, and greasy substances in general. Hydrophobic materials are used for oil removal from water, the management of oil spills, and chemical separation processes to remove non-polar substances from polar compounds.

Hydrophobic is often used interchangeably with lipophilic, "fat-loving". However, the two terms are not synonymous. While hydrophobic substances are usually lipophilic, there are exceptions—such as the silicones and fluorocarbons.

The term hydrophobe comes from the Ancient Greek ὑδρόφοβος, "having a horror of water", constructed from ὕδωρ, "water", and φόβος, "fear".

The hydrophobic interaction is mostly an entropic effect originating from the disruption of the highly dynamic hydrogen bonds between molecules of liquid water by the nonpolar solute forming a clathrate-like structure around the non-polar molecules. This structure formed is more highly ordered than free water molecules due to the water molecules arranging themselves to interact as much as possible with themselves, and thus results in a higher entropic state which causes non-polar molecules to clump together to reduce the surface area exposed to water and decrease the entropy of the system. Thus, the two immiscible phases (hydrophilic vs. hydrophobic) will change so that their corresponding interfacial area will be minimal. This effect can be visualized in the phenomenon called phase separation.



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