Breaking the Restrict of When Water Freezes


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


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

At sub 10 nm scales, transformation temperature exhibits a powerful dependence on water droplet dimension. At 2 nanometers, this temperature drops beneath 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 functions in anti-icing techniques for aviation, infrastructures and even cryopreservation techniques.

A Fast Primer on Nucleation

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

The first nucleation time defines the size of time it takes for the primary crystal nuclei to kind. Whereas secondary nucleation is determined by the pre-existence of crystals to kind, main nucleation doesn’t. Each main and secondary nucleation are wanted in crystal formation, however their mechanisms are totally different.

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

In thermodynamically closed techniques, 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 kind crystals, and due to this fact homogeneous nucleation is slower (and fewer frequent) than heterogeneous nucleation.

Reducing 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 setting the place ice nucleation happens on the tender oil-water interface. The ice nucleation modifications 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 all the way 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 (dimension) 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 totally different pore dimensions.

Water nanodroplets have been immersed in an octane oil setting so they may kind 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 effectively beneath the temperatures thought-about within the research, it could 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 methodology. Additionally they used Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) spectroscopy to independently confirm their outcomes.

Utilizing consultant membranes with 150 nm pores, the staff step by step decreased the temperature at a price 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 modifications on {the electrical} resistivity. Nevertheless, 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 methodology 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 totally different temperatures, exhibiting the dependence of transformation temperatures on droplet dimension.

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 just a few nanometer scales, the softly curved interface of oil-water performs a vital position in suppressing ice nucleation.

This opens up new alternatives for the research 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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