AUSTIN, Texas - Today’s experiment may be something you’ve seen on social media, we’ll be freezing a bottle of water and growing ice crystals instantly.
We’ll be working with supercooled water, which is water that’s cooled below the freezing point but remains in liquid form. The process we’re demonstrating today is known as nucleation. Nucleation describes the process where ice crystals begin to form around a point known as a nucleus. Once the ice crystals form around the nucleus, they’ll continue to grow throughout the liquid.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Room temperature, purified water (I’m using Fiji 500 mL bottled water)
- A freezer
- Ice cubes for the second demonstration
We’ll need purified water because it’s free from sediments and impurities. If we were using tap water or mineral water, the minerals/sediments in the water would act as nuclei and freezing would begin too soon.
To get started, place two bottles of water in the freezer and set a timer for 2 hours and 15 minutes. It’s important that these bottles are undisturbed throughout the entire 2 hours and 15 minutes. If the bottles are jostled or the freezer temperature changes too rapidly, the nucleation process could begin before we want it to.
After the timer goes off…gently remove one of the bottles from the freezer. If everything has gone according to plan, the water should still be in its liquid form.
Now slam the bottle on the counter. The entire bottle of supercooled water should freeze within seconds. This happens because the jarring motion forces a few of the water molecules to line up into a crystal lattice structure that acts as a nucleus for the rest of the crystals to grow off of. Super cool!
Now what happens when we provide a nucleus for the ice crystals to grow on?
Take your second bottle of supercooled water out of the freezer. Pour the water over your ice cubes and watch as the water instantly freezes and creates an icy stalagmite.
That’s because the ice cubes are made up of ice crystals so when the supercooled water touches them, it instantly freezes.