Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Now That's Cool

12.08.2008
Clark School Engineers Out to Thaw the Mysteries of Ice

The Third Law of Thermodynamics is on the minds of John Cumings, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering, and his research group as they examine the crystal lattice structure of ice and seek to define exactly what happens when it freezes.

"Developing an accurate model of ice would help architects, civil engineers, and environmental engineers understand what happens to structures and systems exposed to freezing conditions," Cumings said. "It could also help us understand and better predict the movement of glaciers."

Understanding the freezing process is not as straightforward as it may seem. The team had to develop a type of pseudo-ice, rather than using real ice, in order to do it.

Despite being one of the most abundant materials on Earth, water, particularly how it freezes, is not completely understood. Most people learn that as temperatures fall, water molecules move more slowly, and that at temperatures below 32º F/0º C, they lock into position, creating a solid—ice. What's going on at a molecular level, says Cumings, is far more complicated and problematic. For one thing, it seems to be in conflict with a fundamental law of physics.

The Third Law of Thermodynamics states that as the temperature of a pure substance moves toward absolute zero (the mathematically lowest temperature possible) its entropy, or the disorderly behavior of its molecules, also approaches zero. The molecules should line up in an orderly fashion.

Ice seems to be the exception to that rule. While the oxygen atoms in ice freeze into an ordered crystalline structure, its hydrogen atoms do not.

"The hydrogen atoms stop moving," Cumings explains, "but they just stop where they happen to lie, in different configurations throughout the crystal with no correlation between them, and no single one lowers the energy enough to take over and reduce the entropy to zero."

So is the Third Law truly a law, or more of a guideline?

"It's a big fundamental question," says Cumings. "If there's an exception, it's a rule of thumb."

Materials that violated the Third Law as originally written were found in the 1930s, mainly non-crystalline substances such as glasses and polymers. The Third Law was rewritten to say that all pure crystalline materials' entropy moves toward zero as their temperatures move toward absolute zero. Ice is crystalline—but it seems only its oxygen atoms obey the Law. Over extremely long periods of time and at extremely low temperatures, however, ice may fully order itself, but this is something scientists have yet to prove.

Creating an accurate model of ice to study has been difficult. The study of ice's crystal lattice requires precise maintenance of temperatures below that of liquid nitrogen (-321 °F/-196 °C), and also a lot of time: no one knows how long it takes for ice to ultimately reach an ordered state—or if it does at all. Experiments have shown that if potassium hydroxide is added to water, it will crystallize in an ordered way—but researchers don't know why, and the addition shouldn't be necessary due to the Third Law's assertion that pure substances should be ordered as they freeze.

To overcome these problems, scientists have designed meta-materials, which attempt to mimic the behavior of ice, but are created out of completely different substances. A previous material, spin ice, was designed from rare earth elements and had a molecular structure resembling ice, with magnetic atoms (spins) representing the position of hydrogen atoms. However, it did not always behave like ice.

The Cumings group is refining a successor to spin ice called artificial spin ice, which was originally pioneered by researchers at Penn State. The newer meta-material takes the idea a step further.

"The original spin ice research went from one part of the periodic table to a more flexible one," said Cumings. "But artificial spin ice goes off the periodic table altogether."

Artificial spin ice is a collection of "pseudo-atoms" made of a nickel-iron alloy. Each pseudo-atom is a large-scale model made out of millions of atoms whose collective behavior mimics that of a single one.

As with the original spin ice, magnetic fields are stand-ins for hydrogen atoms. Working at this "large" scale—each pseudo-atom is 100x30 nanometers in size (100 nanometers is 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair)—gives the researchers control over the material and freedom to explore how real atoms behave.

"It mimics the behavior of real ice but is completely designable with specific properties," Cumings said. "We can change the strength of the spin or reformulate the alloy to change the magnetic properties, which creates new bulk properties that we either couldn't get from normal materials, or couldn't control at the atomic level."

The team is also able to image the behavior of the pseudo hydrogen atoms using an electron microscope—such direct observation is not possible with the original spin ice or real ice.

"This is the first time the rules of ice behavior have ever been rigorously confirmed by directly counting pseudo hydrogen atoms," explained group member and postdoctoral research associate Todd Brintlinger. "We can track the position and movement of each pseudo atom in our model, see where defects occur in the lattice, and simulate what happens over much longer periods of time."

The ultimate impact of the research may go beyond civil engineering and the environment. "Although we're mimicking the behavior of ice," Cumings explained, "our meta-material is very similar to patterned hard-disk media. Magnetic 'bits' used in hard drives are usually placed at random, but memory density could be increased if they were in a tight, regular pattern instead.

"We've found that both hydrogen in ice and the pseudo-hydrogen in our artificial spin ice also behave as bits, can carry information, and interact with each other. Perhaps in the future, engineers will be inspired by this in their hard drive designs. The formal patterning and bit interactions may actually help to stabilize information, ultimately leading to drives with much higher capacities."

About the A. James Clark School of Engineering
The Clark School of Engineering, situated on the rolling, 1,500-acre University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md., is one of the premier engineering schools in the U.S.

The Clark School's graduate programs are collectively the fastest rising in the nation. In U.S. News & World Report's annual rating of graduate programs, the school is 17th among public and private programs nationally, 11th among public programs nationally and first among public programs in the mid-Atlantic region. The School offers 13 graduate programs and 12 undergraduate programs, including degree and certification programs tailored for working professionals.

The school is home to one of the most vibrant research programs in the country. With major emphasis in key areas such as communications and networking, nanotechnology, bioengineering, reliability engineering, project management, intelligent transportation systems and space robotics, as well as electronic packaging and smart small systems and materials, the Clark School is leading the way toward the next generations of engineering advances.

Visit the Clark School homepage at www.eng.umd.edu.

Missy Corley | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.eng.umd.edu

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht How protons move through a fuel cell
22.06.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt

nachricht Fraunhofer IZFP acquires lucrative EU project for increasing nuclear power plant safety
21.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Zerstörungsfreie Prüfverfahren IZFP

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>