Two-Dimensional Wetting Technique Is Key

A study by researchers in Spain could lead to new additives for snowmaking, improved freezer systems, or new coatings that help grow ice for skating rinks.

A group of scientists at Spain's Centre d'Investigació en Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (CIN2) have found a way to trigger ice formation at room temperature using artificial materials to control the condensation of the water.  

The team researched the underlying mechanisms of water condensation in the troposphere, the lowest portion of the atmosphere, where -- unlike pure water droplets -- water absorbed with particles in the atmosphere can freeze at higher temperatures, triggering rain and snow. 

Dr. Albert Verdaguer, states that crystal faces that exhibit a structure similar to that of hexagonal ice were thought by earlier scientists to be an ideal agent to induce freezing and trigger rain, but Verdaguer and his team found it "insufficient". 

In search of the proper substitute, they chose to study barium fluoride (BaF2), also known as "Frankdicksonite", for their purposes.   The naturally occurring mineral, turned out to be a "poor ice-nucleating material", but during the experiment,  the researchers discovered that when the mineral's surface had "defects", condensation was greatly enhanced.

Verdaguer and his team are working on a theory. "Under ambient conditions -- room temperature and different humidities -- we observed that water condensation is mainly induced by the formation of two-dimensional ice-like patches at surface defects," Verdaguer says. "Based on our results and previous research, we're preparing artificial materials to improve water condensation in a controllable way."

Verdaguer adds that if water condenses in an ordered way, such as a hexagonal structure on surfaces as ambient conditions, the term "room temperature ice" would be fully justified.

"The solid phase, ice, would be produced by a surface effect rather than as a consequence of temperature. In the long term, we intend to prepare smart materials, 'intelligent surfaces,' that will react to water in a predefined way."

The teams findings can be observed in the June edition of the journal of
 Chemical Physics.

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