Scientists discover strange new form of ice that could change our understanding of water

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists, while stirring ordinary frozen water in a jar of ultra-cold steel balls, have discovered a previously unknown form of ice that is closer to liquid water than any other ice.

It is amorphous ice, a form not found naturally on Earth. This is due to the fact that its atoms are not arranged in a neat repeating crystalline pattern, but in a chaotic order, in atomic disorder.

But the amorphous ice resulting from the team’s experiments, a process called ball milling, is unlike any amorphous ice ever seen.

Amorphous ice typically has a low density, around 0.94 grams per cubic centimeter, or a high density, starting at 1.13 grams per cubic centimeter.

The new ice has a density of 1.06 grams per cubic centimeter, which is incredibly close to the density of water at 1 gram per cubic centimeter.

Researchers led by chemist Alexander Roseu-Finsen, formerly of University College. London in the UK have named a new form of medium-density amorphous ice (MDA).

Water is the foundation of all life. Our existence depends on it, we launch space missions in search of it, but from a scientific point of view, it is poorly understood, ”says chemist Christoph Salzmann from University College London.

“We are aware of 20 crystalline forms of ice, but only two main types of amorphous ice have been previously discovered, known as high density and low density amorphous ices.

There is a huge gap in density between them, and it is generally accepted that no ice density exists within this gap,” explains Salzmann.

“Our study shows that the density of MDA is exactly within this density gap, and this discovery could have far-reaching implications. this is for our understanding of liquid water and its many anomalies.”

Water not beating around the bush is just weird. Because it’s so ubiquitous and essential to our survival, we don’t tend to think about it much, but it doesn’t follow the same rules as other fluids.

It is a universal solvent; that is, many other substances dissolve in it really easily. Its surface tension is unusually high compared to other liquids, as is its boiling point.

And its density under cooling conditions is perhaps the strangest thing of all: as most liquids freeze, their density increases.

Water does the opposite: it becomes less dense, meaning water ice is usually less dense than water. This is why ice cubes float in your drink.

But not all ice is created equally. Here on Earth, ice naturally takes on a crystalline form, with its atoms forming a repeating hexagonal pattern. This is why snowflakes tend to be hexagonal.

However, in near-vacuum space, ice is usually amorphous because the atoms don’t store enough thermal energy to turn into a crystalline structure.

The density gap in amorphous ice has been quite fundamental to our understanding of water.

In fact, previous research and modeling has shown that separation could mean that water exists as two separate liquids at very low temperatures, even coexisting like oil and water rather than mixing if the conditions were right.

Hey, water does even weirder things.

Scientists discover strange new form of ice that could change our understanding of water
Part of the experimental setup for crushing ice

But then Rose-Finsen and his colleagues got their hands on some steel balls. The ball mill is an industrial method used to grind or mix materials.

The researchers used liquid nitrogen to cool the mill jar to -200 degrees Celsius (-328 degrees Fahrenheit), added regular water ice, and shook it.

“We shook the ice like crazy for a long time. and destroyed the crystalline structure,” Rosou-Finsen explains.

“Instead of ending up with smaller pieces of ice, we realized we had come up with a whole new kind of thing with some great properties.”

What these properties mean is not entirely clear. The researchers speculate that MDA may be the “glassy” state of liquid water.

Although amorphous ice does not form naturally, other amorphous solids exist; glass is one of them, and it’s just a solid form of liquid silicon dioxide. But MDA can also be just highly crushed crystalline ice.

This does suggest that our existing water models need to be revisited to figure out how MDA fits into the picture. But this already gives hope to explain some of the ways in which water ice behaves in the universe.

The researchers experimented to see what happens when MDA recrystallizes by compressing and heating it.

They found that this process releases a surprising amount of energy, suggesting that MDA may play a role in tectonic activity on ice-covered worlds such as Jupiter’s moon Ganymede.

And this discovery shows the potential for future experiments and research as well as the special properties of water.

“We have shown that it is possible to create something that looks like water in stop-motion animation,” says chemist Andrea Sella from University College London.

“This is an unexpected and surprising discovery.”


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