Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The smallest piece of ice reveals its true nature

Collaborative research between scientists in the UK and Germany (published in this week’s Nature Materials) has led to a breakthrough in the understanding of the formation of ice. Dr Angelos Michaelides of the London Centre for Nanotechnology (formerly of the Fritz-Haber Institut der Max-Planck Gesellschaft in Berlin) and Professor Karina Morgenstern of the Leibniz University Hannover have combined experimental observations with theoretical modelling to reveal with unprecedented resolution the structures of the smallest pieces of ice that form on hydrophobic metal surfaces.

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
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Scientists discover particles similar to Majorana fermions
25.10.2016 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

nachricht Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>