Researchers accidentally discover unique property of crystalline ice

nucleus ice freezing
Illustration of initial nucleus of freezing water. (Credits - Vitroids/Flickr)

Water ice is not always produced equally. Under specific circumstances, its neat arrangement of lattice molecules in a crystalline fashion get disordered and then it resembles the structure of amorphous solids like glass, plastic.

This was the general idea behind the working however a recent finding has made scientists turn into a confused state.

A specific type of amorphous ice was discovered in the ’80s. It was produced by freezing water to form ice at very extreme temperatures. And immediately this ice was subjected to high amounts of pressure. It was taken that consequent amorphous material was similar to liquid water since water could be frozen to form amorphous ice and then melted back to its previous state. But researchers are not so certain about this anymore.

While trying to study about amorphous ice with very high density, a group of researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory accidentally produced different forms of crystalline ice. Dennis Klug, a material science researcher at the National Research Council of Canada remarked that if the data from the experiment conducted was true then it would signify that the amorphous ice is not connected to liquid water, instead, it is a transformation between two phases which has been interrupted. This is a wide variation from the theory which has been usually accepted. The study was published in Nature.

What actually took place was that the research group planned to study the changes in the amorphous ice with an increase in the temperature. After that, it was considered that the molecules in the disordered state would fall back to the regular ordered lattice with the “melting” of amorphous ice to a crystal form.

Researchers had to first manufacture the amorphous ice. For this, a three-millimeter sphere of heavy water (which has an additional neutron in the nucleus of hydrogen) was frozen. This property of heavy water helps in the analysis of neutron scattering. Next, the temperature was lowered to -173 degrees Celsius and simultaneously the pressure was increased to 28000 times the value at sea level.

When the molecular structure was observed, scientists found that the transformation of ice had taken place through four forms. It started with the regular form and ended up at the form ice XIII, while passing through ice IX and ice XV.

Initially, the team felt that the water sample was not pure. Hence they repeated with another new sample and observed the same result every time. Just by slowly increasing the pressure, scientists had a completely new observation.

The transition of water phase from low-density state to high-density state is thought to occur at a second critical point. However, as per this research, this critical point may not exist. The unexpected results have given scientists a new way to understand the dynamics of water.


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