After watching a few videos regarding supercooling water on YouTube, this concept was further solidified for an assistant professor, Matthew M. Szydagis,
“All of my work is motivated by the search for dark matter, a form of matter we’re sure is out there because we can observe its indirect gravitational effects,” mentioned Szydagis. “It makes up a significant fraction of the universe, but we have yet to uncover direct, conclusive and unambiguous evidence of it within the lab.”
Szydagis explained that if water containing a low amount of impurities was placed in a smooth container, it could be cooled to below 0 C that is its freezing point without actually freezing.
“This is called ‘supercooling’ and is similar to how water can be easily superheated in the microwave, essentially heated above its boiling point without actually boiling. It’s simply the reverse,” he elaborated. “The water ends up, in either of these cases, in a state known as ‘metastability,’ neither unstable nor quite stable either.”
In this case, in the phase transition, any disturbance could trigger freezing and crystallization. “This isn’t ordinary freezing, and it forms white snow instead of clear ice,” he further added. “We cooled liquid water to as cold as -20 C (-4 F). in our lab without it freezing. It isn’t the same as freezing point depression, like when you salt your sidewalk, because the water was pure and not contaminated with impurities on purpose.”
“Some particles like neutrons can even scatter multiple times within the water,” explained Szydagis. “We were able to show this not only with commercially available sources of particles, but also a Fiestaware ‘radioactive red’ plate with orange uranium-based paint from the 1950s.”
A new detector that was based on supercooled water was created and called “snowball chamber”. Condensed matter physicists and chemists have been studying supercooled water for decades.
“But we managed to discover a new property of supercooled water,” added Szydagis. “To our great surprise, we found that some particles (neutrons) but not others (gamma rays) trigger freezing. Since this is basic research that has never been done before, there was no guarantee it would work. It was a ‘let’s try it and see’ approach — the scientific method in its most basic form. Not only do we have a new detector of fundamental particles, but potentially of dark matter because neutrons are thought to emulate it.”