Ice is known for being stiff and brittle, but in theory it could be super flexible. Researchers have managed to approximate this natural elasticity by growing small strands. This work is published in the journal Science.
The maximum theoretical elastic deformation of water ice (the percentage of its size that it can be stretched or bent before returning to its original shape) is about 15%. That’s for the theory. In “the real world” cracks and misalignment of crystals make ice very vulnerable. For example, the highest yield point previously recorded for ice was only about 0.3%. Recently, however, researchers have been able to make a leap forward by making ice microfibers with a maximum elastic tension of 10.9%.
To create their hyperflexible ice, the researchers explain that they pumped water vapor into a cold room (-50°C). Since they have a slight positive charge on the hydrogen side and a negative charge on the oxygen side, the water molecules were then attracted to the charged tip of a tungsten needle. They then crystallized into tiny fibers just a few micrometers wide.
Due to their small size and almost instant formation, these ice microfibers contain very few imperfections. The researchers then found that the structures were more elastic than any other type of water ice ever measured before. Indeed, these fibers can folded in partial circles and everything returned to their original form after being released.
Excellent light guides
By examining the structure of their ice strands, the researchers pointed to a: extreme transparency. Indeed, by attaching a small “flashlight” to the ends of each strand, they found that light was sent through the fibers just as easily as through the best-known waveguides (devices that allow the propagation of waves through multiple reflections, such as an optical fiber ).
« They work just like fiber optic cables that enable high-speed internet communication“Summarizes the Times Limin Tong, physicist at Zhejiang University in China. ” They can direct the light from left to right« .
Despite the low temperature requirements needed for their “production,” these microfibers could one day be used to study air quality, the authors said. Particles associated with pollution, such as soot and metals, often stick to chunks of ice in the atmosphere, where they change the way the ice absorbs and reflects light. By growing microfibers from contaminated ice and studying how light passes through them, it may be possible to better understand the amount and type of pollution in a given area.