Anyone who has ever pulled an icicle from a railing or eave in winter and tried to bend it knows it's nearly impossible to do so, due to the fact that ice is usually stiff and brittle, but a new study by researchers outlines how researchers created thin strands of ice that are bendable and flexible. To create the elastic ice, the scientists involved in the project used a needle with a voltage applied to it to attract water vapor in a cooled chamber.
When the water vapor freezes in the cooling chamber, thin ice filaments of a few microns or less in diameter are created. These ice filaments are smaller in width than a human hair. Ice usually contains tiny cracks, pores or misaligned crystal parts. However, these particular ice strands are near-perfect ice crystals with atypical properties.
When ice lines are operated at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius and -150 degrees Celsius, the ice can be bent into an arc with a radius of a few tens of microns. When the bending force was removed, the ice fibers returned to its original shape.
The researchers noticed that the bent fibers compressed the inner edges of the ice, and measurements showed that this caused the ice to take on a different structure. This was not unexpected, as ice is known to change into various forms depending on pressure and temperature. The discovery could help researchers study the properties of ice when it is squeezed in a new way, the scientists said.
The scientists noted that thin ice strands form in snowflakes, but the snowflakes do not consist of a single flawless ice crystal, unlike the ice in their experiments. However, in small parts of the snowflakes, there may be single crystals, suggesting that tiny parts of the snowflakes may also be more flexible.