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Very cold ice films in laboratory reveal mysteries of universe
Date:11/5/2008

Earth. At low temperatures, ice can form different structures at the mesoscale than under terrestrial conditions, and in some cases can be amorphous in form, that is like a glass with the molecules in effect frozen in space, rather than as crystals. For ice to be amorphous, water has to be cooled to its glass transition temperature of about 130 K without ice crystals having formed first. To do this in the laboratory requires rapid cooling, which Cartwright and colleagues achieved in their work with a helium "cold finger" incorporated in a scanning electron microscope to take the images.

As Cartwright observed, ice can exist in a combination of crystalline and amorphous forms, in other words as a mixture of order and disorder, with many variants depending on the temperature at which freezing actually occurred. In his latest work, Cartwright and colleagues have shown that ice at the mesoscale comprises all sorts of different characteristic shapes associated with the temperature and pressure of freezing, also depending on the surface properties of the substrate. For example when formed on a titanium substrate at the very low temperature of 6K, ice has a characteristic cauliflower structure.

Most intriguingly, ice under certain conditions produces biomimetic forms, meaning that they appear life like, with shapes like palm leaves or worms, or even at a smaller scale like bacteria. This led Cartwright to point out that researchers should not assume that lifelike forms in objects obtained from space, like Mars rock, is evidence that life actually existed there. "If one goes to another planet and sees small wormlike or palm like structures, one should not immediately call a press conference announcing alien life has been found," said Cartwright.

On the other hand the existence of lifelike biomimetic structures in ice suggests that nature may well have copied physics. It is even possible that while ice is too cold to support most life as we know
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Contact: C. Ignacio Sainz-Diaz
cisainz@ugr.es
34-958-184-644
European Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert

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