Researchers may be able to "freeze" water into a solid, not by cooling but by confining it to narrow spaces less than one-millionth of a millimeter wide, according to new results from an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers.
It's more than a neat trick -- a deeper understanding of how thin films of water behave in nanometer-sized spaces may help advance numerous scientific endeavors, including the development of new energy sources, pharmaceuticals and self-cleaning surfaces.
Water has long been known for its quirky physical properties, including its ability to expand when cooled and to flow with increasing ease when compressed. While this behavior on a large scale has been the subject of much research, the effect of nano-confinement on water's physical properties and transitions between the gas, liquid and solid phases is largely unknown.
"This research suggests the idea that phase transitions can be controlled by understanding the effects of confinement and interaction with a surface," said team member Pablo Debenedetti, vice dean of Princeton University's School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science.
In addition to Debenedetti, the research team includes Nicolas Giovambattista, a former Princeton postdoctoral research associate now a physicist at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and Peter Rossky, a chemist at the University of Texas-Austin. The researchers published their findings Feb. 6 in the journal Physical Review Letters. Their work is part of an ongoing effort funded by the National Science Foundation to study how confinement in nanometer-scale spaces affects the behavior of water-based solutions, including those containing biomolecules.
In their investigation, the researchers used computers to simulate the movement of water molecules trapped between two hypothetical plates. The plates in the scenario were
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Princeton University, Engineering School