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A Flash Freeze, In High-Def

Monday, March 17, 2014 - 11:57 AM

Not only did we get to see water freeze into ice instantaneously, Rockefeller University set it up like a Vogue fashion shoot.



See, ice has bubbles in it, and when light hits the ice, the light scatters off the bubbles, and it scatters all over the place. Using a set-up that involved two squares of polarized glass, and a simple LED lamp, the crew at Rockefeller were able to channel the light, highlighting the ice front forming in real-time (though full disclosure, this Gif is slowed down), creating such a beautiful, clear, and highly contrasted flash freeze, we felt like we were witnessing the couture in ice formation.


How did this flash freeze happen? Listen to our podcast episode to find out!

...Okay, fine, if we must tell you here, the long and the short is that when water molecules get cold enough (i.e., slow enough), they'll start bonding with each other, forming microscopic hexagonal structures, and the creation of that geometric lattice is what makes ice form.

To start the bonding, water molecules need a little help -- maybe something to push them together, so they are close enough to bond; maybe something to gather around. If there is nothing to help make those structures, then water stays as liquid, even well below the freezing point. In our video here, the water is -20 degrees Celsius, even though water normally freezes at 0 degrees C.

Scientists aren't sure, but they posit that perhaps the shock wave from the TAP! on the table bumps individual H2O molecules together, and then the H2Os are like, "Oh hey! We like being this close!", and they bond into their icey structure (really fast). 


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Comments [18]

Tomas Lindström from Stockholm, Sweden

Great short and great show!
However in this case I believe Curzio Malaparte most probably were right in his observation and that he might need an apology from Radiolab …

My thinking is that Radiolab missed an important piece of information in Mapalpartes’s story to explore: The forest fire impact in the scenario!

The forest fire would contribute with the energy required to the instant freeze and I can at least see in two ways:

• Forest fires sometimes create storms in the ambient environment.
We all know, and absolutely here in Sweden, that wind drastically increases the cooling effect of the temperature e.g. a temperature of 0 becomes -9 in a wind of 18 m/s.
• The heat of the forest fire rises and by that pressures down cold air, and possibly freezing rain, in the ambient environment.

My point is that these effects from a huge forest of the fire on the horses and lake make the scenario described by Curizo Malaparte most possible or at least worth-wile to be investigated before making the conclusion that his story is a fairy tale.

So great show and it get us thinking..

Jan. 22 2016 10:33 AM
Upton C. Gatsby from Florida

This is so cool! I love anything to do with science, so this is right up my alley. I find it intriguing that something so crazy as ice changing for so rapidly takes only a small tap. Anything to do with water is amazing though. Because of its odd makeup of atoms, it is the craziest molecule on the planet. Its weird to think of a process like freezing to happen so fast however, because it usually takes hours.

Apr. 15 2015 11:08 PM
Lyra A. Yeats

I watched a video very similar to this a few months ago. I believe that this one was more interesting, although shorter, it is better quality and more interesting. The title is sarcastic but then watching the video it seems accurate it literally looks like a vogue photo shoot. I am not a big science person myself, however I did enjoy this little clip of freezing water. I would like to learn how to do this, although I know I would hurt myself in some form.

Apr. 06 2015 10:04 PM
Bill Rogers from Alabama

We had those water coolers with the blue 5-gallon jugs at one of our job sites. This happened in the winter in a southern state so I know it wasn't all that cold - maybe in the mid-20s F. One of the guys went outside to a metal storage building where the jugs were stored and got one and brought into the office area. He peeled the little seal, put it upside down on the plastic spud and when the air bubbled up through it, the whole thing turned into ice in a half-second. It was astonishing. When it was over, it was a mixture of ice and still liquid water.

Oct. 18 2014 02:00 PM
Juan B

This same effect will happen if you put a beer inside a freezer (it has to be glass bottle beer) I´ve done it with CORONAS, take them out of the freezer, hit them in the bottom and it will instantly freeze.

Jun. 02 2014 07:29 PM
Kevin from West Palm Beach, FL

This is almost, but not exactly what causes 'con-trails' or as those of the conspiracy camp like to say, 'chem trails' -- planes flying in cold, undisturbed air. Sometimes, it's the water vapor produced by their engines, but mostly it's the cold, still and moist air that is disturbed and forms clouds/ice vapor. Why is this so hard to understand?

Mar. 23 2014 04:34 PM
Gerald MacGillivray from Now, Ottawa, Canada

SuperCool... Super Kewl.
Nobody believes me when I tell them this story. Very early one winter morning, I was driving along a back road in Nova Scotia and I noticed a pool of water at a low spot in the road. It piqued my attention because it was really really cold. I don’t remember the temperature but, I’m from Canada. I don’t consider -10C cold. So, it was well below that. How was liquid water possible at this temperature? I’ve taken Chemistry. I knew about the super-cooling effect of water. I also knew about depressive effect of salt on the freezing point of water.
I stopped and got out of the truck. I examined the pool. It was actual liquid not very clear ice. I knew it wasn’t possible to be the super cooled water we discussed in class since there would be road salt and debris in it. At that moment, I thought it was just too cold for even a solute depressed freezing point I suspected it was some combination of super salty water and their having been no wind or disturbance for the whole night. I fanaticised that it was some combination of super-cooling and super saturated salt-water solution. I didn’t have a camera with me. I didn’t have a thermometer. I didn’t have anything to carry out an experiment. So, I did the next best thing that an impulsive person would do.
I backed up and then raced the truck at the pool. I expected water to rooster tail off to the sides and maybe freeze mid air. And I thought that would be pretty kewl. Well, the water did spray off to the side but, it also sprayed all over the truck and inside the engine bay. The engine stalled. I stopped. I opened up the hood and found everything covered in inches thick layers of ice.
I walked back to the pool. It wasn’t a pool any longer. It was a frozen pair of trenches. You could see excellent imprints of my tire tracks and the ice was solid. ...The same way as when slush holds a tire pattern and then later freezes.
Now, I know it wasn’t super cooling in the “perfect conditions” sense but, somehow circumstances converged to allow a super fast freeze. There had to have been fifty or a hundred gallons of liquid water in that pool and it froze in a second or two.
I managed to start the engine. The power steering wasn’t working (slipping belt). Everything felt sluggish and stiff. After I took the truck back to the shop, we had to put it inside to thaw. It took until the next day before it was thawed and dry.
My boss didn’t believe my story. He didn’t believe there could be water on the road. The only physical proof of this was in the truck. He saw the truck but, he still didn’t believe me. He thought I pulled some sort of prank.
My prof didn’t believe my story. He said it wouldn’t be possible. All I know is what I saw.

Mar. 20 2014 10:54 AM
Troy from San Bernardino

The same sort of thing can be done with super heated water. If you carefully raise the temperature of water, you can raise the temperature above boiling point. As soon as you disturb the water or add an impurity, the water will spontaneously boil.

This is probably a more commonly observed phenomena; if you've ever tried to heat water in a microwave oven, you've probably seen it happen.

Mar. 19 2014 11:49 PM
Malcolm from Guangzhou, China

There's also a great scene of horses frozen in a river in Guy Maddin's film,"My Winnipeg", which, like all his movies, will live somewhere in your mind like a retinal ghost.

This made me love Murch even more than his book on editing and his interviews with Ondaatje.

Thanks for the show.

Mar. 19 2014 08:50 PM
Christina Nordberg from South in Sweden

Please look at the website of André Prah - a Swedish artist.
He has made 300 horses in Wood from the Baltic Sea shores - inspired of the story of Malaparte.
And on Facebook - Icehorses of Ladoga

Mar. 19 2014 04:11 PM
Dreemqueen from Los Angeles, CA

"If there is nothing to help make those structures, then water stays as ice, even well below the freezing point."

I think you made a typo.. I'm sure you meant that if the water is very still, it will remain in the liquid phase well below freezing point until something disturbs the water making it flash freezes into ice.

Mar. 18 2014 10:46 PM
Sean Gilmore from Toronto, ON

Listening to this show reminded me of the frozen Corona trick.

It shows the flash freeze of a Corona. They bang the bottle to initiate the flash freeze but I have seen it happen after you add the lime after you open it.

Mar. 18 2014 06:09 PM
Brian from AZ

Great timing this I listened to this over the weekend, and the concepts presented in the program helped me understand the NYT article (mentioned in another comment) of the big bang!! Did you have an inside knowledge?

Mar. 18 2014 03:50 PM

Marta, my guess is that you saw this picture or one like it without the people. It is from a movie called "My Winnepeg"
The director claims this scene is from an actual event, but as in the radio lab show, real events can be ~embellished~ shall we say

Mar. 18 2014 12:14 PM

Images of the frozen horses exist on the internets, easily located by googling "river frozen horses." I don't recommend looking though, as what is seen cannot be unseen. Haunting.

Mar. 18 2014 10:56 AM
Manfred Krifka from Berlin, Germany

Very interesting story, especially the event related by Curzio Malaparte. I missed, however, a reference to Kurt Vonegut's outrageous 1963 novel "Cat's Cradle". In it, a mad scientist discovers a new state of water, ice-nine, a frozen state of water at room temperature. Originally designed to make mud solid to help the US army, it turns all water into a solid state. At the end, a piece of ice-nine thrown into the sea makes all oceans freeze over in an instant.

Mar. 18 2014 06:59 AM
Meloni C. from Honolulu, HI

What a great show! Not only was my almost 11 year old enthralled, I was tickled pink to here the one and only Walter Murch sharing his story find (an old family friend). Always love your show, fun week for us for sure!

Mar. 18 2014 02:03 AM
Bob C from Monterey, Ca

Great short! I had to share the reference to the flash freeze phenomena as mentioned in today's NYTs article about the discovery of gravitational waves leftover from the Big Bang.

"Under some circumstances, a glass of water can stay liquid as the temperature falls below 32 degrees, until it is disturbed, at which point it will rapidly freeze, releasing latent heat.

Similarly, the universe could “supercool” and stay in a unified state too long. In that case, space itself would become imbued with a mysterious latent energy.

Inserted into Einstein’s equations, the latent energy would act as a kind of antigravity, and the universe would blow itself up. Since it was space itself supplying the repulsive force, the more space was created, the harder it pushed apart.

What would become our observable universe mushroomed in size at least a trillion trillionfold — from a submicroscopic speck of primordial energy to the size of a grapefruit — in less than a cosmic eye-blink."


Mar. 17 2014 11:17 PM

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