The results provide information about the process of ice nucleation at a molecular level and take science a significant step closer to understanding the mysterious process through which ice forms around microscopic dust particles in the upper atmosphere. Because this is the basis of cloud formation, knowing how different particles promote ice formation is crucial for climate change models.
The authors began by cooling down a metallic surface to 5 degrees above absolute zero (around –268 Celsius) at which temperature it was possible to “trap” and obtain images of the smallest possible pieces (hexamers) of ice using a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM). The hexamer – the simplest and most basic “snow flake” – is composed of just six water molecules. Other ice nanoclusters containing seven, eight and nine molecules were also imaged.
On the difficulties of imaging these ice clusters, Prof Morgenstern said: “Scientists have long struggled to resolve single water molecules within ice clusters, because they are so vulnerable to damage induced by electrons – the very thing that creates the image. The high resolution could only be achieved by reducing the current to the smallest value technically possible.”
As well as performing experiments, the team used highly-accurate (‘first principles’) theoretical models to analyse how such a structure could form. Here the theory provided some surprising insights. In ice, water molecules usually bond to each other with equal strength but with the ice nanoclusters the team identified a pattern of alternating shorter and longer bonds between the water molecules. This pattern provided new information about the ability of water molecules to share their hydrogen bonds, revealing a hitherto unknown competition between the ability of water molecules to bind to a metal surface and simultaneously accept hydrogen bonds.
Dr Michaelides said, “We are all familiar with the freezing of water. It features prominently in our daily lives, from fridge freezers to winter snow. Despite all this, the question of how individual water molecules come together and give birth to ice crystals remains mysterious. Our research provides an insight into the most important and ubiquitous type of ice nucleation event, namely heterogeneous nucleation. State-of-the-art experimental and theoretical techniques allowed us to “watch” and accurately model what happens at very low temperatures.”
The research makes it possible to explain the ways in which water structures form on different substrates, such as transition metals and salt surfaces. It may also provide a new way of thinking about the structure of ice clusters that form on solid surfaces in general, opening the door for applications in a variety of fields as diverse as astronomy, electrochemistry, and energy research. It also takes us a step closer to understanding how water interacts with different aerosols and dust particles in the atmosphere, processes which drive cloud formation and have a large impact on the planet’s climate.
David Weston | alfa
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On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
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Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
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Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
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Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
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