Breaking the Restrict of When Water Freezes
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Breaking the Restrict of When Water Freezes

Researchers on the College of Houston have demonstrated droplet measurement dependence in water to ice part transitions on the surfaces of anodized aluminum oxide (AAO) nanomembranes. This analysis was printed within the journal Nature Communications.


Research: Freezing of Few Nanometers Water Droplets. Picture Credit score: Mario7/

At sub 10 nm scales, transformation temperature reveals a robust dependence on water droplet measurement. At 2 nanometers, this temperature drops under the homogenous bulk nucleation restrict.

In most pure and industrial environments, water to ice part transitions happen on heterogeneous surfaces, that’s, when water droplets are involved with one other medium. 

Understanding this phenomenon will result in thrilling advances in biomimicking know-how with vital purposes in anti-icing programs for aviation, infrastructures and even cryopreservation programs.

A Fast Primer on Nucleation

Nucleation is step one within the means of forming a brand new thermodynamic part or a brand new construction through self-organization. It’s usually characterised by the size of time wanted for the brand new part or construction to seem.

The first nucleation time defines the size of time it takes for the primary crystal nuclei to type. Whereas secondary nucleation will depend on the pre-existence of crystals to type, major nucleation doesn’t. Each major and secondary nucleation are wanted in crystal formation, however their mechanisms are completely different.

The method of nucleation has been discovered to be depending on impurities inside the system. Thus, we are able to distinguish between two kinds of nucleation: Homogeneous nucleation happens away from a floor, whereas heterogeneous nucleus happens on a floor.

In thermodynamically closed programs, the Gibbs free power describes the utmost quantity of non-expansion work that may be extracted from the system. Away from a floor, there may be much less free power to type crystals, and subsequently homogeneous nucleation is slower (and fewer frequent) than heterogeneous nucleation.

Decreasing the Freezing Restrict on Heterogeneous Nanosurfaces

Breaking the Limit of When Water Freezes

The size dependence of water–ice transformation in a heterogeneous mode. For two nm water droplets, heterogeneous nucleation might break the restrict of bulk homogeneous nucleation. b Schematic of a nanodroplet shaped in confined geometry and surrounded by an oil atmosphere the place ice nucleation happens on the delicate oil-water interface. The ice nucleation adjustments the native curvature of the oil-water interface. Picture Credit score: Hakimian, A., et al.

The researchers on the College of Houston have studied the formation of ice crystals in confined geometries right down to 2 nm.

Water nanodroplets have been shaped inside pores of anodized aluminum oxide (AAO) membranes. The membranes had a diameter of 1 cm and a thicknesses ranging between 50 and 60 μm. The membrane thicknesses decided the size (measurement) of the pores whereas pore diameters ranged from 2 to 150 nm.

Besides for two and 5 nm thick membranes, the pores have been uniformly (isotropically) distributed alongside the thickness of the membrane: the two and 5 nm thick membranes comprised two layers with completely different pore dimensions.

Water nanodroplets have been immersed in an octane oil atmosphere so they might type a water-oil interface. Thus, ice nucleation may very well be initiated at this interface. Because the solid-liquid phase-change temperature of octane (at −57 °C) is nicely under the temperatures thought of within the examine, it might not affect the outcomes noticed.

As {the electrical} conductance of water and ice differ by three orders of magnitude, the staff might detect water-ice part transitions utilizing a four-probe technique. In addition they used Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) spectroscopy to independently confirm their outcomes.

Utilizing consultant membranes with 150 nm pores, the staff steadily decreased the temperature at a fee of 0.3 °C per minute and measured the current-voltage curves at every temperature.

Because the temperature decreased, resistances throughout the pores elevated linearly, exhibiting the impact of temperature adjustments on {the electrical} resistivity. Nonetheless, between −9  °C and −11 °C, a excessive, nonlinear shift in electrical resistance occurred. This bounce indicated the water-ice part transformation contained in the pores.

{The electrical} conductance technique was additionally used on membranes with pore sizes of 10, 20, 40 and 80 nm. Nonlinear shifts in electrical resistance have been additionally detected however at completely different temperatures, exhibiting the dependence of transformation temperatures on droplet measurement.

The staff additionally noticed that water-ice part transformation at pore dimensions of two nm happens at temperatures decrease (−41 °C) than for homogeneous bulk nucleation (about −38 °C). Critically, they’ve proven that, at a couple of nanometer scales, the softly curved interface of oil-water performs a vital function in suppressing ice nucleation.

This opens up new alternatives for the examine of ice formation on heterogeneous surfaces in industrial, medical and different environments.


Hakimian, A., et al., (2021) Freezing of few nanometers water droplets. Nature, [online] 12, 6973. Accessible at:

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