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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Ice cloud

by Craig Bettenhausen
January 25, 2024

Credit: Submitted by Tom Kuntzleman

Tom Kuntzleman is a chemistry professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he specializes in education—eye-popping demonstrations are kind of his thing. So he was ready this past week when cold temperatures hit much of the eastern half of the United States. To get this photo, he had his daughter-in-law throw near-boiling water into the frigid air. “As the hot water leaves the container, it spreads into streams and blobs; the lower surface tension of water at increased temperature helps the water spread out more easily,” Kuntzleman explains. “The hot water also has a very high vapor pressure, which causes it to evaporate into the air. But the air is very cold! So when the gaseous water contacts the chilly air, it rapidly condenses back into tiny liquid microdroplets of water. These microdroplets are so cold that some (all?) of them freeze into tiny particles of ice.” The rapid spread and huge surface area creates beautiful clouds and striations of ice, suspended for a few moments in mid-air.

Submitted by Tom Kuntzleman

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