Hydrophobic interactions are driven by the combined influence of the direct attraction between oily solutes and an additional water-mediated interaction whose magnitude (and sign) depends sensitively on both solute size and attraction. The resulting delicate balance can lead to a slightly repulsive water-mediated interaction that drives oily molecules apart rather than pushing them together and thus opposes their direct (van der Waals) attraction for each other. As a consequence, competing solute size-dependent crossovers weaken hydrophobic interactions sufficiently that they are only expected to significantly exceed random thermal energy fluctuations for processes that bury more than ∼1 nm2 of water-exposed area.


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