Researchers grow fibers of frozen water that are flexible and nearly defective-free

Anyone who's ever plucked an icicle off of the railing or roof line in the winter and tried to bend it knows that they are very fragile. Ice is typically stiff and brittle, but a new study by researchers from Zhejiang University in China outlined how researchers have created thin and pristine threads of ice that are bendy and elastic. To create the flexible ice, scientists on the project used a needle with electric voltage applied to it to attract water vapor within a cooled chamber.

When the water vapor froze in the small chamber, thin strands of ice a few micrometers in diameter or less were created. The threads of ice were a fraction of the width of a typical human hair. Ice usually contains tiny cracks, pores, or misaligned sections of crystal. However, the special ice threads were near-perfect ice crystals featuring atypical properties.

When the ice threads were manipulated at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius and -150 degrees Celsius, the ice could be curved into a partial circle with a radius of tens of micrometers. When the bending force was removed, the fiber of ice returned to its original shape.

Researchers note that bending the fibers compresses the ice on its inside edge, and measurements indicate the compression causes the ice to take on a different structure. That's not unexpected, as ice is known to change into various phases depending on pressure and temperature. Scientists say the discovery could help researchers study the properties of ice when squeezed using a new method.

Scientists note that thin ice strands form in snowflakes, but snowflakes don't consist of a single flawless ice crystal, unlike ice in their experiment. However, in small sections of the snowflakes, there could be single crystals suggesting that tiny parts of snowflakes could also be flexible.