Imaging surface structure and premelting of ice Ih with atomic resolution. (

These scientists wanted to study the surface of ice very closely to understand how it behaves and changes. They used a special microscope called a cryogenic atomic force microscope with a carbon monoxide-functionalized tip to look at the atomic structure of the surface of hexagonal water ice (ice Ih). They found that the ice surface is made up of different types of nanodomains, which are like tiny blocks stacked together in a specific pattern. By using a technique called density functional theory, they discovered that the surface of ice is stabilized by minimizing the repulsion between certain bonds.

As they increased the temperature, they noticed that the ice surface started to become disordered, which means it was beginning to melt slightly even before reaching its melting point. This melting process started at the boundaries between the different types of domains on the ice surface and was influenced by the formation of a specific type of structure.

By studying these details, the scientists were able to solve a long-standing debate about the surface structures of ice and gain insights into how ice starts to melt. This new knowledge could change the way we understand the physics and chemistry of ice in the future.

Hong J., Tian Y., Liang T., Liu X., Song Y., Guan D., Yan Z., Guo J., Tang B., Cao D., Guo J., Chen J., Pan D., Xu LM., Wang EG., Jiang Y. Imaging surface structure and premelting of ice Ih with atomic resolution. Nature. 2024 May 22. doi: 10.1038/s41586-024-07427-8.

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