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Supercooled water can make instant ice crystals

You will need:

  • At least 4 bottles of very pure water, distilled water is best
  • 1 bowl or plate
  • A freezer
  • Lots of patience - this can be a difficult experiment to reproduce!

    Supercooled water - materials needed

Instructions

 
  1. Take the labels off the bottles of water.
     
  2. Place the bottles in a freezer and leave undisturbed until the first bottle begins to freeze (this could be between 20 minutes to an hour, depending on how much water you have in the bottles).
     
  3. Once the bottles have cooled, gently remove them from the freezer.
     
  4. Add an ice cube to a plate or bowl.

    Supercooled water  - about to pour water on the ice
     
  5. Gently pour the supercooled water over the ice cube and watch what happens! 
    Can you reproduce the cool ice towers as seen in the video?

    Supercooled water ice tower
     
  6. Alternate version:

    - Shake one of the bottles and watch the ice crystals form instantly!
    - Try stirring one of the bottles with a straw, or perhaps adding a piece of ice or dirt to the solution.

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Why Does This Happen?

Ice generally forms on microscopic scratches and bumps called nucleation sites. Nucleation sites, or 'bumps', occur within most containers with imperfections - even dissolved impurities such as calcium or even air bubbles act as nucleation sites for ice to form. If you remove the nucleation sites from the water, the water cannot form ice crystals easily.

Normally, pure water (without impurities) will form ice crystals at 0 degrees Celsius or lower.
However if pure water is cooled down very slowly, in a very smooth container with no dust inside, you can make water stay a liquid at temperatures below zero. Supercooled solutions are very unstable. Introducing air bubbles or a seeding crystal into the solution causes the liquid water to rapidly freeze. 

Be aware that supercooling is different from freezing point depression. Freezing point depression occurs when you dissolve an ionic solid such as salt in water. A salt water solution will have a lower freezing point than pure water - do the experiment and find out for yourself!

The longer it takes to form a crystal, the larger the crystal will be.

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