Email Print Share

"Freeze-Dry" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
Audio Play Audio
The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 641-552-8180 on any telephone.

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:


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 or on our podcast.

General Restrictions:
Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation. Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.

Also Available:
Download the high-resolution JPG version of the image. (66.6 KB)

Use your mouse to right-click (Mac users may need to Ctrl-click) the link above and choose the option that will save the file or target to your computer.

MP3 icon
NSF podcasts are in mp3 format for easy download to desktop and laptops, as well as mobile devices capable of playing them.