Bendy Ice Microfibers
Photo credit: Peizhen Xu, Bowen Cui, Xin Guo and Limin Tong, Zhejiang University via New Scientist
Scientists from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China, led by Limin Tong, have discovered that when ice is grown in micro strands, it can bend and then uncurl back to its original shape. It’s no surprise that normal water ice is brittle, but when grown into a single, long crystal, the material is far more flexible. The research team used this knowledge to create the most flexible water ice ever. Read more for a short video and additional information.

These special microfibers were made using water vapor pumped into a small chamber kept at -50°C, while an electric field attracted water molecules to a needle made of tungsten. This caused the molecules to crystalize and build fibers up that were micrometers in diameter. The ice was then cooled even more between -70°C and -150°C to measure the elastic strain of the fibers. They discovered that the ice can now be bent all the way back before they snapped right back into straight lines afterwards.

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Previously, the largest elastic strain experimentally observed in ice was about 0.3 per cent, but now we have 10.9 per cent in ice microfibres, much more bendy than any ice before. The discovery of these flexible ice fibers opens opportunities for exploring ice physics and ice-related technology on micro- and nanometer scales,” said Limin Tong at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China.