Jumping Frost

Dendritic ice crystals on a branch.

Liquid water is easily electrically charged, due to its polar nature. That’s why rubbing a comb is enough to deflect a stream of water. Ice is harder to charge, but it can happen, especially when there are temperature gradients across the ice.

That’s the key behind this study of jumping frost. When ice crystals grow on a surface much colder than their surroundings, positive charges gather in the colder region, leaving the dendritic branches of the ice negatively charged. When researchers brought liquid water near the charged ice crystals, the water became charged, too. Positive charges in the water attracted the negatively-charged dendrites, causing the ice crystals to jump off the surface.

Studies like this help us better understand cloud and rain formation and may one day lead to new ways of de-icing surfaces. (Image credit: frost – Miriams-Fotos, figure – R. Mukherjee et al.; research credit: R. Mukherjee et al.; via ChemBites; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

Figure showing snapshots of dendritic ice as it jumps off a surface due to electrostatic charge.
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