Revealing the secrets of ice

The complex properties of water and ice are not well understood. Ice can assume a large number of different crystalline structures, more than any other known material and researchers are studying the way water crystallizes into ice.

At ordinary pressures the stable phase of ice is known as ice I, but a team from University College London, Department of Chemistry, have revealed new information about a phase of ice called ice II. Ice takes on many different forms depending on the pressure at which it develops and as water freezes its molecules rearrange themselves and high pressure causes the molecules to rearrange in different ways than they would normally.
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Researchers at UCL are conducting fundamental research studying the polymorphism of different solids and an example of this is ice. Typically thought of as the kind we find in a freezer or falling from the heavens in the winter as snowflakes, ice can actually exist in almost two dozen structural states. By compressing ice the molecules can be forced into different arrangements. Each different type of ice has contrasting structural properties and the researchers also know there are types of ice still to be discovered. By furthering their research they are hoping to discover these new forms of ice and it is hoped that understanding more about the structure of ice will reveal fascinating facts about nature such as how glaciers travel and why ice is less dense than water allowing icebergs to float.

Much of the research in this field has been done focusing on the final pressure applied to a solid, e.g. ice. As different types of ice are formed, the density of ice changes meaning that the force applied to the specimens can alter over the course of an experiment with an operator having to keep a keen eye on the pressure gauge of for example a hydraulic press to keep the pressure constant. The researchers at UCL turned to ZwickRoell to find a better, simpler solution which also provide pressure readings to a much higher degree of precision. Further to this, the rate of compression which is seldom mentioned or considered when working with ice needed to be precisely programmed and controlled by the testing machine so that not knowing the compression rate became a thing of the past.

Having invested in the acquisition of a 100kN capacity testing system, the main impact of the ZwickRoell machine is to allow experiments to be performed on a previously unprecedented level of detail and precision while being able to adopt some unique testing procedures. An added bonus is that the experiments do not require an operator to oversee the testing routine as the experiment can be programmed, initiated and then the ice specimen test results gathered when the procedure has been completed.

Researchers at UCL said that negotiations with ZwickRoell had been exemplary and that the supplied equipment had totally satisfied their groundbreaking testing requirements. They commented that, “The ZwickRoell press and reputation is living up to its expectations and a lot of high-grade future research will result from the installation of this advanced technology testing product.”