Why does the world need bendy ice?

·1-min read
Scientists in China have created a new flexible form of ice.

Science magazine reveals that researchers in China have succeeded in creating ice that is bendy and flexible, in the form of a microfiber thinner than a human hair. This could give rise to practical applications, such as studying environmental changes.

It is usually impossible to bend and flex ice. And the reason ice is so fragile is that its crystals have natural imperfections. A team of researchers from Zhejiang University in China sought to create ice with as few structural imperfections as possible, growing extremely fine and elastic microfibers.

To achieve this result, a tungsten needle was placed in a cold chamber at about -50°C. After water vapor was released and an electric field was applied, the water molecules were attracted to the tip of the needle. There, they crystallized and formed a very fine microfiber.

By then lowering the temperature of the cold chamber to -150 degrees, the researchers were able to experiment with the elasticity of this newly created fiber. The microfibers -- with a diameter ranging from 800 nanometers to 10 micrometers -- were able to bend with a maximum strain of almost 11%. Note that after this experiment, the frozen fiber regained its initial shape.

But beyond the technical prowess of the achievement, what could bendy ice be used for? At first, this technology could be used to study various natural phenomena. In the form of sensor, ice microfibers could be used to measure environmental changes such as the surface deformation of ice, the evolution of pollution, etc. The fibers are also very clear, and are capable of transmitting light with virtually no loss, opening the door to other potential uses.

David Bénard

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