Two-dimensional wetting technique gives room temperature ice

Now if we can just apply this treatment to all the glaciers and the Arctic…

Artificially controlling water condensation leads to ‘room-temperature ice’

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Via Eurekalert. College Park, MD (July 27, 2010) — Earth’s climate is strongly influenced by the presence of particles of different shapes and origins — in the form of dust, ice and pollutants — that find their way into the lowest portion of the atmosphere, the troposphere. There, water adsorbed on the surface of these particles can freeze at higher temperatures than pure water droplets, triggering rain and snow.

Researchers at Spain’s Centre d’Investigació en Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (CIN2) have studied the underlying mechanisms of water condensation in the troposphere and found a way to make artificial materials to control water condensation and trigger ice formation at room temperature. Described in the Journal of Chemical Physics, which is published by the American Institute of Physics, their work may lead to new additives for snowmaking, improved freezer systems, or new coatings that help grow ice for skating rinks.

“Several decades ago, scientists predicted that materials with crystal faces exhibiting a structure similar to that of hexagonal ice, the form of all natural snow and ice on Earth, would be an ideal agent to induce freezing and trigger rain,” explains Dr. Albert Verdaguer. “This explanation has since proven to be insufficient.”

The research team chose to study barium fluoride (BaF2), a naturally occurring mineral, also known as “Frankdicksonite,” as an option. They examined water adsorption on BaF2 (111) surfaces under ambient conditions using different scanning force microscopy modes and optical microscopy to zoom in on the role atomic steps play in the structure of water films, which can affect the stabilization of water bilayers and, ultimately, condensation.

Despite having the desired hexagonal structure, BaF2 turned out to be a poor ice-nucleating material. But oddly enough, other researchers had discovered that when the mineral’s surface has defects, its condensation efficiency is enhanced.

Verdaguer and his colleagues figured out why this occurs. “Under ambient conditions — room temperature and different humidities — we observed that water condensation is mainly induced by the formation of two-dimensional ice-like patches at surface defects,” Verdaguer says. “Based on our results and previous research, we’re preparing artificial materials to improve water condensation in a controllable way.”

The next step? The researchers’ goal now is to produce environmentally-friendly synthetic materials for efficiently inducing snow. “If water condenses in an ordered way, such as a hexagonal structure, on such surfaces at ambient conditions, the term ‘room temperature ice’ would be fully justified,” adds Verdaguer. “The solid phase, ice, would be produced by a surface effect rather than as a consequence of temperature. In the long term, we intend to prepare smart materials, ‘intelligent surfaces,’ that will react to water in a predefined way.”

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The article, “Two-dimensional wetting: The role of atomic steps on the nucleation of thin water films on BaF2(111) at ambient conditions” by M. Cardellach, A. Verdaguer, J. Santiso, and J. Fraxedas was published online in the Journal of Chemical Physics on June 21, 2010.

PDF of the paper is available. See: http://link.aip.org/link/JCPSA6/v132/i23/p234708/s1

41 thoughts on “Two-dimensional wetting technique gives room temperature ice

  1. It would be better if they could get it to condense to a liquid and flow away from their specially engineered materials. Then you could mine water from the air to water your crops.

  2. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who immediately thought of ice nine. Turns out to be even more apropos than I’d thought….

    According to wikipedia (don’t groan, its not that bad a source for non-controversial topics), Vonnegut was inspired by an idea thought up by a thin-film researcher who had been tasked with entertaining HG Wells on a visit to GE. Wells wasn’t interested, but Vonnegut ran with it in his own inimitable style when he learned of it decades later. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice-nine)

  3. Talking of Ice Nine. The company I worked for in the seventies had a run in with a real live “ice nine”

    We manufactured a chemical that was liquid at room temperature. Somehow we ended up making a crystalline form. The crystals from our plant “seeded” the chemical and from then on the chemical was solid at room temperature. This did not endear us to our customers or the other manufacturers of the chemical. (Yes the company is still in business making custom chemicals)

  4. “If water condenses in an ordered way, such as a hexagonal structure, on such surfaces at ambient conditions, the term ‘room temperature ice’ would be fully justified,”

    not rotten, just ‘semantic’
    it’s still just condensed water in monomolecular thickness.

  5. Since we are playing with the evaporation system and our politicians are nuttier than fruitcakes….how long will some moron will try to seed this in the atmosphere to “cool” the planet?

  6. Hmm. Sounds to me a good way to desalinate water.

    The easy way to get fresh water from sea water is to have an inclined plastic sheet over salt water and gather the condensation seeping down at the bottom of the sheet. Not very efficient but good to know if stranded on an island without fresh water :) .
    Now if the plastic had this magic surface, then it would be much more efficient and maybe large quantities of water could be obtained?

  7. Molon Labe says:
    July 28, 2010 at 1:13 am

    It would be better if they could get it to condense to a liquid and flow away from their specially engineered materials. Then you could mine water from the air to water your crops.

    I think it would melt if exposed to sunlight heating, as with the plastic sheet I mentioned above, if the post ever appears.

  8. An enhanced ski season. Why they could be skiing in CA in July. Oh, sorry, they were doing that with the natural stuff.

  9. Perhaps these researchers could learn a lesson from biology, specifically microbiology. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, researchers found that several plant pathogens produced a protein that nucleated ice formation. Steve Lindow did extensive work on this, showing that the protein stimulated the crystallization of ice in super-cooled water at temperatures -2 to -5 C. The rapid ice formation would then disrupt the plant leaves and allow the bacteria access to all of the nutrients within the plant’s cells.

    IIRC, there was a pretty big environmental kerfuffle surrounding the release of a genetically modified Pseudomonas syringae without the “ice” gene. The first field experiments were delayed several years because of fears (I can’t recall the particular deadly scenario(s)) that the release would cause irreparable environmental damage. The basic thought was to apply “ice-less” bacteria to strawberry plants, hoping to outcompete the resident bacteria. I remember that there were promising results but I never followed up on it.

    This research did result in a commercial application: artificial snow making. I don’t know how extensively it is used today, but the reference to the protein sequence is:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/protein/P06620.1

  10. “Frankdicksonite”? I’ll bet Frank is still having a good laugh over that one!

    “Two-dimensional wetting technique” – I thought this was what happened to Gavin et al whenever anyone said the words “Global Cooling.”

  11. If ice is forming at a higher temperature, where is the energy going? is it cold ice or room temperature ice? For ice to form, the condensate must release its energy to the surrounding, releasing heat. if however the room is warmer than the ice, the ice will absorb energy from the room and cool the room.

    What am I missing here?

  12. Here is a simple request out of compassion – can we just makes boots with a BaF2 sole for the polar bears so they will always be walking around on “ice”. When properly fitted, perhaps they won’t drown anymore, they will simply walk across the water. That swimming thing wears them out you know.

  13. Hmmm. Only peripherally related but maybe of interest: I recall a recent TV program (I believe ‘Engineering an Empire’ on Discovery) about a mythical tale out of India that the royal guests centuries ago would have ice treats at the end of meals by placing bowls of water outside even in sweltering heat. Turned out to be true and was demonstrated. The small bowls were placed in a breezeway with straw covering the top. The controlled evaporation removed heat and a thin film of ice formed in something around 45 mins, iirc.

    Cheers,
    BillN

  14. “Based on our results and previous research, we’re preparing artificial materials to improve water condensation in a controllable way.”

    The above statement lacks the ethical question: Should we be doing this?
    And the law of unintended consequences will arrive when such things are done at scale.
    Thad Allen “Where’s the oil?”

  15. Yikes!!! This Global Warming thingy has progressed to the point that even ice is at room temperature! Iced tea will never be as thirst quenching again…..

  16. There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. The MOST such a surface can do is enable the water to condense without requiring subcooling, by acting as a nucleation site. Dust or smoke sized particles of this nature will simply accomplish what plain old dirt can do, but just require a bit less material to do so. Yawn.

    Thermodynamics, it’s not just the law, it’s a good idea.

  17. They will never achieve much more than 1 or 2 layers of “dense” absorbed water. The hydrogen bond with the subsequent layers will dominate the atomic forces from the surface of the solid.

    The applications are limited and most likely they could be a good nucleation particles. However, even if BaF2 is found in nature, what would be the effect of major quantities released in the air or soil?

    I am certain however that at the end of their paper they must have added “but more research is needed to study this effect” (i.e. more money too!).

  18. Living in the Midwest, I want a material that does the opposite. I want a surface that prevents “icing” below the freezing point to surface the roads with. I’ll offer my driveway and sidewalks as test areas.

  19. Matt July 28, 2010 at 7:14 am

    If ice is forming at a higher temperature, where is the energy going? is it cold ice or room temperature ice? For ice to form, the condensate must release its energy to the surrounding, releasing heat. if however the room is warmer than the ice, the ice will absorb energy from the room and cool the room.

    What am I missing here?

    Same question I am asking myself here … where/what is the energy transfer?

    .

  20. BillN July 28, 2010 at 7:47 am

    Hmmm. Only peripherally related but maybe of interest: I recall a recent TV program (I believe ‘Engineering an Empire’ on Discovery) about a mythical tale out of India that the royal guests centuries ago would have ice treats at the end of meals by placing bowls of water outside even in sweltering heat. …

    Not getting much back out of Google that is relevant on that subject ‘mix’ BillN …

    .

  21. BillN, in History Of Refrigeration (pdf file) I did find this:

    1.2.1. Art of Ice making by Nocturnal Cooling:

    The art of making ice by nocturnal cooling was perfected in India. In this method ice was made by keeping a thin layer of water in a shallow earthen tray, and then exposing the tray to the night sky.

    Compacted hay of about 0.3 m thickness was used as insulation. The water looses heat by radiation to the stratosphere, which is at around -55°C and by early morning hours the water in the trays freezes to ice.

    This method of ice production was very popular in India.

    Hmmm … IR radiation directly into space from the surface as a cooling mechanism … hmmm …

    .

  22. It is true that when water crystallizes it forms six sided crystals. But it can’t do this without the temperature dropping. The latent heat of crystallization has to be removed. Water molecules will not stay still long enough to form crystals wherever you put them at temperatures above 0° C.

  23. Re: Matt July 28, 2010 at 7:14 am

    “If ice is forming at a higher temperature, where is the energy going? is it cold ice or room temperature ice? For ice to form, the condensate must release its energy to the surrounding, releasing heat. if however the room is warmer than the ice, the ice will absorb energy from the room and cool the room.

    What am I missing here?”

    It is room temperature ice. There are many different types of energy and enthalpy is just one of them. No enthalpy is lost by the water but it can still be favourable for it to form the hexagonal ice structure on the BaF2 surface if doing so increases the entropy (from the second law of thermodynamics) and the interfacial energy to reduce the energy of the entire system. If the hexagonal ice structure is sufficiently favourable then there will be enough energy in the system already for it to form. Surfaces are areas of high energy so they are where some amazing things can happen in terms of entropy that we wouldn’t normally expect because we are used to dealing with objects of a size where the surface energy is small compared to the internal energy. It is no surprise that defects are a favourable site as they would be an area of even high interfacial energy.

    An example you might be more familiar with would be say the water meniscus on the side of a container. Considering the potential energy of the water alone the meniscus should not form, but if we consider the interfacial energy we find that the meniscus must form.

  24. I sounds to me like they have formed a mono-molecular, well-ordered layer of H2O on this surfance, and have decided to call it “ice”. This is NOT what most people would call ice. “Useful ice” would be a substance that could absorb heat, so as to cool something else. This requires an energy transfer, which does not seem to be happening here.

  25. ethical shmethical ice-9 whatever. I don’t care. As long as this means I can snowboard in June without going to Chile or New Zealand.

  26. stevengoddard says:
    July 28, 2010 at 5:37 am

    “I tried pointing this out last year in the CO2 freezing point article. Ice nucleates around defects. No one seemed interested at the time.”

    Steve, sod all the rhetoric! Does this mean I can get ice for my Whisky n Coke without the use of a fridge in my current room, Shanghai temperature, (90F! yep I am that old!) and humidity currently around 90% ?

    I can work out, as an electrical engineer, how external temperature and humidity effect the air conditioners and refrigeration equipment I work with but this is all new to me! Now, if I can only adapt this to the HVAC systems on the marine offshore side, I can really make my mark on saving the world from the evil CO2 before I retire and join with Anthony, in full time pay from the oil companies! Sarc off! (pray, the AGW myth does not fail for 2 more years! Its to much fun!)

  27. Room temperature ice is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

    No, wait. Room temperature. That’s not cool.

    I guess it’s literally warm and metaphorically cool. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    I guess it won’t be of much use keeping my beer cold but I wonder if you can go sledding on it?

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