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"Freeze-Dry" -- The Discovery Files

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In a new study, a passive anti-frosting surface fashioned out of an aluminum sheet provides a proof of concept for keeping surfaces 90 percent dry and frost free indefinitely -- all without any chemicals or energy inputs. The material manages this thanks to "ice stripes" -- microscopic raised grooves on the surface -- and it could help prevent the kind of ice buildup that leads to power outages and flight delays, potentially reducing the billions of dollars spent on such events.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Freeze-dry.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Ice, ice baby. Scrape it off the windshields (Sound effect: scrape), de-ice the wings (Sound effect: plane on tarmac), defrost the fridge (Sound effect: ice pick). Humans have devised all sorts of tactics from chemicals such as salt on the sidewalk to special coatings or energy (Sound effect: hair dryer) like using a hair dryer on my locks and I don't mean the curly ones all to remove or prevent ice from forming. Researchers at Virginia Tech have a better idea: Fight the ice with ice.

That's so cold. Pretty much an ice-free surface using no chemicals, heat sources or coatings. Relying on the chemical properties of ice itself, the team created the world's first passive anti-frosting surface out of an untreated aluminum sheet. Here's the key: across the surface, they fashioned microscopic raised grooves. The researchers call them "ice stripes," and they make up about 10 percent of the entire surface.

Ice stripes form low-pressure areas that pull moisture from the air onto the nearest stripe. Ice does form in these "sacrificial" areas," but the rest of the surface stays dry.

Applications could include wings, roads, cars and a lot more. And since it can be done with any material, we may even see a frostless windshield!

(Sound effect: ice cream truck melody) Not a frozen treat; more like a frozen treatment.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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