Scientists Discover Amorphous Ice That Resembles Liquid Water

Crystal structure of liquid water (left) compared to ordinary water ice (right).

If you thought ice cream flavors weren’t any more interesting than crushed or diced ones, think again: Researchers have discovered an ice form that has a random molecular structure similar to that of liquid water, despite being a solid.

The particular ice, called medium-density amorphous ice (or MDA), also has a density similar to liquid water. Amorphous ice has been known before, but not on this middle ground for density. The researcher’s findings were published this week in science.

“We know of 20 crystalline forms of ice, but so far only two main types of amorphous ice, known as high-density and low-density amorphous ice, have been discovered,” said the study’s co-author Christoph Salzmann, materials scientist at University College London, in a Cambridge release.

“The accepted wisdom was that no ice exists within this density gap,” Salzmann added. “Our study shows that the density of MDA falls right within this density gap, and this finding may have far-reaching implications for our understanding of liquid water and its many anomalies.”

To find the loosely textured ice with the density of Goldilocks, the team shook ordinary water ice into a jar stuffed with steel balls, cooled to about -376 degrees Fahrenheit (-200 degrees Celsius.) The process is called ball milling and is a way to break up molecules with mechanical forces. The principle is simple: aWhen the balls hit the ice, it pulverizes it. As a result, MDA looks like white powder; Although it is a solid, it has the molecular composition of liquid water.

“We shook the ice like crazy for a long time, destroying the crystal structure,” said Alexander Rosu-Finsen, a researcher at UCL and lead author of the study, in the same press release. “Rather than end up with smaller chunks of ice, we realized we had developed something entirely new with some remarkable properties.”

With ice in the density gap, scientists need to reevaluate the behavior of water and water ice under different (in this case extreme) conditions.

MDA had one final quirk: WAs the material recrystallized into ordinary water ice, it released a large amount of heat. Researchers believe the discovery could have geophysical implications for ice on the surfaces of frozen moons like Europa, which NASA is among launch planned an orbiter in 2024.

“Amorphous ice is generally considered to be the most abundant form of water in the universe,” said co-author Angelos Michaelides, a chemist at the University of Cambridge release. “The race is now on to understand how much of this is MDA.”

The new research is just the latest study the nature of ice. Last Yeara team of physicists used a diamond anvil Crush water ice into a tetragonal crystal structurewhat distinguishes the new ice (named Ice-VIIt) from the traditional hexagonal symmetry of water ice (known as Ice-I).

Hopefully, The discovery of such a stunning new form of ice will stimulate further research how the abundant water form is manifesting throughout the universe. That would be a rare case of a Good slippery slope.

More: Researchers find “forbidden” quasicrystal after atomic bomb test Scientists Discover Amorphous Ice That Resembles Liquid Water

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