Sep 10, 2009

Scientists succeeded in creating a completely flat, two-layer ice. This kind of water-structure is vital to understanding protein folding and the assembly of cellular membranes and intracellular compartments, says the scientists.

The experimentalists began with Graphene on top of a layer of platinum. Then, they introduced a small amount of water onto the surface in ultrahigh vacuum (that is, no pressure) and very low temperatures. While ice traditionally forms at 273 Kelvin, for this experiment, the temperature was dropped to 125 K, about the temperature of an evening on the moon.

Next, the team used low-energy diffraction equipment that sends waves of slow-moving electrons at the surface. How those electrons bounce off the surface tells researchers a lot about the structure of the material.

The researchers found a layer of smooth ice had grown on the graphene, not the usual puckered layers of ice seen on water friendly or hydrophilic surfaces. In the new ice, the angles between the atoms in the water molecules were stretched or compressed compared to normal ice. "This makes for stressed ice," said Dr. Greg Kimmel, the team lead.