Equilibria of distribution of amino acid side chains, between their dilute aqueous solutions and the vapor phase at 25 degrees C, have been determined by dynamic vapor pressure measurements. After correction to pH 7, the resulting scale of "hydration potentials", or free energies of transfer from the vapor phase to neutral aqueous solution, spans a range of approximately 22 kcal/mol. The side chain of arginine is much more hydrophilic than those of the other common amino acids, with an equilibrium constant of approximately 10(15) for transfer from the vapor phase to neutral aqueous solution. Hydration potentials are more closely correlated with the relative tendencies of the various amino acids to appear at the surface of globular proteins than had been evident from earlier distribution studies on the free amino acids. Both properties are associated with a pronounced bias in the genetic code.