Dirty Ice May Be Ugly, but It Has One Advantage

What’s the worst part of winter? The perpetual shoveling of snow? The bitter wind that whips across your face?

Some might say the real villain is ice, which causes slips and falls, sends cars spinning and delays flights. Engineers in Chicago have made it their mission to better understand the basics of ice and, better yet, how to get rid of it.

Their latest research, published in the journal Materials Horizons, reveals that while water freezes, even tiny amounts of a contaminant dramatically decreases its tendency to stick to a surface.

The discovery could someday lead to less damaging de-icing salts — which corrode metal and infrastructure and harm the environment — or pave the way for alternative melting agents.

Researchers have been studying how ice adheres to surfaces for a long time, though their research almost always focuses on pure ice, said Sushant Anand, a mechanical engineer at the University of Illinois Chicago who led the study.

“But water isn’t pure on the roads or in the oceans,” he said. “And when this water freezes on surfaces, then it forms this ice that has all these contaminants inside.”

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