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UCL and Cambridge researchers uncover a new kind of ice with remarkable properties

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  • Staff Report 

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and University College London have made a groundbreaking discovery of a new form of ice that is unlike any other known ice and has properties that more closely resemble liquid water. The research was published in the journal Science and has sparked a revolution in the understanding of water and its many anomalies.

The newly discovered ice is amorphous, meaning that its molecules are in a disorganized form, not neatly ordered as in crystalline ice. The researchers found that when ordinary ice was ball milled and vigorously shaken with steel balls in a jar cooled to -200 degrees Celsius, the resulting product was a novel amorphous form of ice with a density that matched liquid water and resembled water in a solid form. The researchers named this new ice “medium-density amorphous ice” (MDA).

According to the researchers, MDA may exist inside the ice moons of the outer solar system, where tidal forces from gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn may exert similar shear forces on ordinary ice as those created through ball milling. Furthermore, the team found that when MDA was warmed up and recrystallized, it released an extraordinary amount of heat, which could trigger tectonic motions and “icequakes” in the kilometers-thick covering of ice on moons such as Ganymede.


The discovery of MDA raises questions about existing models of water, which will have to be re-evaluated to explain the existence of medium-density amorphous ice. The researchers suggested that MDA may be the true glassy state of liquid water, which is a precise replica of liquid water in solid form, similar to the way that glass in windows is the solid form of liquid silicon dioxide. Another possibility is that MDA is not glassy at all, but is in a heavily sheared crystalline state.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Alexander Rosu-Finsen, said, “We shook the ice like crazy for a long time and destroyed the crystal structure. Rather than ending up with smaller pieces of ice, we realized that we had come up with an entirely new kind of thing, with some remarkable properties.”

Water has many anomalies that have long baffled scientists. For example, water is at its most dense at 4 degrees Celsius and becomes less dense as it freezes. Additionally, the more liquid water is squeezed, the easier it is to compress, deviating from the principles that are true for most other substances. This new study has the potential to finally provide an explanation for these anomalies and shed new light on the nature of liquid water.

In conclusion, the discovery of medium-density amorphous ice opens up new avenues for research in the field of water science and has far-reaching implications for our understanding of liquid water and its many anomalies.

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