Externally applied electric fields up to 1.6 × 105 V/m do not affect the homogeneous nucleation of ice in supercooled water

Claudiu A. Stan, Sindy K.Y. Tang, Kyle J.M. Bishop, George M. Whitesides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

42 Scopus citations


The freezing of water can initiate at electrically conducting electrodes kept at a high electric potential or at charged electrically insulating surfaces. The microscopic mechanisms of these phenomena are unknown, but they must involve interactions between water molecules and electric fields. This paper investigates the effect of uniform electric fields on the homogeneous nucleation of ice in supercooled water. Electric fields were applied across drops of water immersed in a perfluorinated liquid using a parallel-plate capacitor; the drops traveled in a microchannel and were supercooled until they froze due to the homogeneous nucleation of ice. The distribution of freezing temperatures of drops depended on the rate of nucleation of ice, and the sensitivity of measurements allowed detection of changes by a factor of 1.5 in the rate of nucleation. Sinusoidal alternation of the electric field at frequencies from 3 to 100 kHz prevented free ions present in water from screening the electric field in the bulk of drops. Uniform electric fields in water with amplitudes up to (1.6 ± 0.4) × 105 V/m neither enhanced nor suppressed the homogeneous nucleation of ice. Estimations based on thermodynamic models suggest that fields in the range of 10 7-108 V/m might cause an observable increase in the rate of nucleation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1089-1097
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Feb 10 2011
Externally publishedYes


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry

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