Researchers reveal secrets of supercooled water

Jul 4, 2014

By Gabriella Munoz

Getting water to its supercooled state at between -43 to -48 degrees Celsius is no easy task, and scientists have dubbed this state ‘no-man’s land’. A new study, published in the journal Nature, however, explains how scientists managed to get to water’s no-man’s land by cooling water to -46 degrees Celsius. The results of the study will help further understand our knowledge of water in all conditions.

Physicist Anders Nilsson and his team from the Standford University National Accelerator Laboratory in the US managed to make 10-micron-sized water droplets in a vacuum. The droplets evaporated really fast, but they were able to keep them at -46 degrees Celsius for enough milliseconds to take x-rays to study the structural makeup of the droplets.

The images revealed that water’s molecular structure transforms continuously as it enters this mysterious zone, and with further cooling the changes accelerate even more than previously thought.

The study has provided the first structural measurements of liquid water in no-man’s land, but we’ll have to wait a bit more to get a full picture of the amazing properties of water at even lower temperatures. “Our dream is to follow these dynamics as far as we can,” said Nilsson in a release. “Eventually our understanding of what’s happening here in no-man’s land will help us fundamentally understand water in all conditions.”

3 comments on “Researchers reveal secrets of supercooled water

  • Water has a lot more properties than those observed in its liquid state at normal temperatures and pressures on Earth.

    I can remember my first encounter with supercooling as a child, when my father showed me a bottle of distilled water which had been left in an unheated shed on a frosty night.
    He shook it, and the whole of the contents almost instantly crystallised into ice!

    Water comes in many forms, once we move away from normal Earth climatic conditions.

    In late 2009 scientists noticed a periodic dimming of a nearby star and announced the discovery of a “super-Earth” about 2.7 times the size of our planet. They thought the planet GJ1214b could be made mostly of water, but they weren’t sure.

    Now, using the Hubble Space Telescope to study the color of sunset (in the infrared portion of the spectrum) on this world, astronomers say the planet is very likely made mostly of water.

    In their forthcoming paper (see .pdf) in the Astrophysical Journal, the researchers say the world likely has a dense atmosphere of water vapor, and that its interior is wholly unlike our own.

    The high temperatures and high pressures would form exotic materials like ‘hot ice’ or ‘superfluid water,’ the astronomers say.

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  • 3
    bricology says:

    Alan — other liquids will behave in a similar way. A full bottle of sake, for example, when left in the freezer long enough, will appear to still be liquid but as soon as it’s opened, will transform into slush. When when poured into a glass, “snowflakes” form in it. Great fun to watch.

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