Research

Beijing 2022: Ice’s Slideability

A curling stone placed in the house.

As scientists continue to unravel the peculiarities of ice, they’ve found that ice’s friction depends both on the object sliding on it and the ice’s hardness. At extremely low temperatures, water molecules at the ice’s surface are held rigidly by the hard ice, resulting in high friction. At intermediate temperatures, however, water molecules at the surface were more mobile — especially with a quick-moving slider going by — so the friction decreased.

But as the ice approached its melting point, the friction behavior shifted again. As the ice softened, sliding objects could begin to plough into the ice, dramatically increasing contact and friction. When ploughing begins depends on temperature, slider shape, contact pressure, slider speed, and ice hardness.

Beyond the lab, researchers found that weather plays a role in slideability, too, since humidity and air temperature can affect the thickness of the liquid-layer at the ice’s surface. (Image credit: SHVETS Productions; research credit: R. Liefferink et al.; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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