A Moment of Science

There’s Ice, Then There’s Ice

We think of ice as snowflakes, ice cubes, snow cones, and dangerous patches on the sidewalk. Scientists have many different ways of categorizing ice too!

frozen ice cubes under blue lighting

Photo: Darren Hester

There are actually fourteen types of ice that exist in different environments.

Did you know there is more than one kind of ice?

Scientists call the ice that you make in a typical freezer ice 2, but there are actually fourteen other kinds of ice that exist in different environments.

Ice that forms in much lower temperatures and at higher pressures, like ice buried deep inside a glacier, has a different structure than the ice we use. Maybe the coolest kind of ice was found by researchers at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Using a computer model, they froze water molecules inside tiny, hollow straws called carbon nanotubes. Under very high pressure, the molecules spontaneously froze into a spiraling helix shape.

Knowing how very small amounts of ice can form in extreme conditions may help planetary scientists know what kind of ice to look for in other kinds of extreme environments, like on Mars.

Learning how to make ice on the nano-scale could help engineers use nanotubes to make other kinds of materials, like polymers and metals. It could even help doctors learn more about how other small things, like proteins, form inside the body.

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