The new substance prevents water from freezing even at -263 ° C

How Hard Is It To Freeze Flowing Water?

The new substance prevents water from freezing even at -263 ° C

Scientists from the Swiss Higher Technical School and the University of Zurich have developed and synthesized a new class of complex lipids (fat molecules) that, when mixed with water, form membranes that prevent the formation of ice crystals even at extremely low temperatures.

The effect is achieved due to the fact that the created substance forms «soft» a biological substance called lipid mesophase. Its molecules spontaneously group and combine to form membranes that behave in the same way as natural fat molecules. These membranes are then evenly distributed and form a network of interconnected channels that are less than one nanometer in diameter..

Water, mixing with the lipid structure, fills the free space between the membranes, but the channels are so narrow that there is simply not enough space in them for the formation of ice crystals.

Using liquid helium, the researchers cooled the mixture to -263 °C, but crystals did not form even at temperatures close to absolute zero. Instead, the water became «glassy» and remained plastic. Lipids also do not freeze under such conditions.. The key factor in controlling and restructuring is the fat-to-water ratio and temperature.. 

The new substance prevents water from freezing even at -263 ° C

The schematic image shows the channels of lipid membranes filled with water (light blue).

A good interaction with the liquid ensures the duality of lipids, the molecules of which consist of two parts: one repels water, and the other, on the contrary, attracts. However, this also makes them difficult to synthesize. Therefore, scientists have modeled a new class of lipids on the membranes of certain bacteria, which now secrete them naturally, allowing them to survive in very cold conditions..

The Swiss say that the invention could serve as a tool for other biological and physical researchers, as well as in other areas where it is necessary to prevent water from freezing..

Scientists have also recently developed an inexpensive membrane capable of filtering oil from water and oil mixtures very quickly without contamination..

text: Ilya Bauer, photo: ETH Zurich

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