Researchers develop method that prevents water from freezing

Shawn Knight

TechSpot Staff
Staff member

Researchers from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich have developed a method to prevent water from forming ice crystals, allowing it to retain the familiar amorphous characteristics of a liquid even at extremely low temperatures.

To get there, researchers designed and synthesized a new class of lipids to create a “soft” biological matter referred to as a lipidic mesophase.

“In this material, the lipids spontaneously self-assemble and aggregate to form membranes, behaving in a similar way as natural fat molecules. These membranes then adopt a uniform arrangement to form a network of connected channels that measure less than one nanometer in diameter.”

What’s unique about this structure is that it leaves no room for water to form the three-dimensional lattice structures that result in ice crystals. As such, the molecules remain unorganized, allowing the water to continue to flow.

The lipids form net-like branched membranes which enclose water (light blue).

The team used liquid helium to cool a lipidic mesophase consisting of a chemically modified monoacylglycerol to minus 263 degrees Celsius, or just 10 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. Even at this extreme temperature, no ice crystals formed.

What practical application does the discovery tackle? According to the researchers, the new lipidic mesophases will primarily serve as a tool for other scientists to non-destructively isolate, preserve and study biomolecules in membrane-mimicking environments. This, in turn, can help biologists better understand the structure and function of proteins, for example.

Those interested in learning more are encouraged to check out the team's report which was recently published in the journal Natural Nanotechnology.

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TS Evangelist
I've watched enough science shows to know that just because someone with a camera is showing up does not mean a scientist will change their morning routine.

My first thought in this was cryogenics... so far as I remember, one of the biggest issues with freezing tissue and cells was that once crystals form in the water (which our cells are full of) it destroys the cells. Maybe this will help!

That Dude There

TS Booster
10 years later...
"Cancer epidemic for users of the new anti-freeze substance. Experts are wondering if this is the worst idea ever".