Research

Surfaces That Scrape Off Ice

Ice can be a terrible pest, freezing to surfaces like roads and airplane wings and causing all sorts of havoc. Some surfaces, though, can actually prompt a freezing drop to scrape itself off. There are a couple key effects in play here. The first is that the surface is nanotextured – in other words, it has extremely small structures on its surface. This makes it hydrophobic, or water-repellent. The second key ingredient is that the drop is cooling evaporatively; that means heat is escaping along the air-water interface instead of conducting through the solid surface. As a result, the freezing front forms at the interface and pushes inward. Water expands as it freezes, which tries to force the interior liquid out, toward the bottom of the drop. On a normal surface, this would force the contact line – where air, water, and surface meet – to push outward. But the nanotexture of the hydrophobic surface pins that line in place. So the expanding ice pushes the frozen drop upward, scraping it off the surface! (Video and image credit: G. Graeber et al., source)

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