A solution is a mixture in which one or more substances are uniformly distributed in another substance. Solutions can be mixtures of liquids, solids, or gases. For example, plasma, the liquid part of blood, is a very complex solution. It is composed of many types of ions and large molecules, as well as gases, that are dissolved in water. A solute (SAHL-yoot) is a substance dissolved in the solvent. The particles that compose a solute may be ions, atoms, or molecules. The solvent is the substance in which the solute is dissolved. For example, when sugar, a solute, and water, a solvent, are mixed, a solution of sugar water results. Though the sugar dissolves in the water, neither the sugar molecules nor the water molecules are altered chemically. If the water is boiled away, the sugar molecules remain and are unchanged.

Solutions can be composed of various proportions of a given solute in a given solvent. Thus, solutions can vary in concentration. The concentration of a solution is the amount of solute dissolved in a fixed amount of the solution. For example, a 2 percent saltwater solution contains 2 g of salt dissolved in enough water to make 100 mL of solution. The more solute dissolved, the greater is the concentration of the solution. A saturated solution is one in which no more solute can dissolve.

Aqueous (AY-kwee-uhs) solutions—solutions in which water is the solvent—are universally important to living things. Marine microorganisms spend their lives immersed in the sea, an aqueous solution. Most nutrients that plants need are in aqueous solutions in moist soil. Body cells exist in an aqueous solution of intercellular fluid and are themselves filled with fluid; in fact, most chemical reactions that occur in the body occur in aqueous solutions.

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