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"Snowball Chamber" helps researchers find subterranean water in the search for dark matter

After watching YouTube videos of people cooling the water in a bottle and then freezing it with beating, something about this concept was solidified for Matthew M. Szydagis, an assistant professor of physics at the University of Albany at the State University in New York when he saw it again during the Disney movie "Frozen".

During the American Physical Society's April 2019 meeting in Denver, Szydagis will describe how he was inspired to investigate whether a subatomic particle such as dark matter can cause freezing of overcooled water. For more information, visit

"All my work is motivated by the search for dark matter, a form of matter that we are sure can observe the indirect effects of gravity," Szydagis said. "It's a big part of the universe, but we still need to uncover direct, consistent, and clear evidence in the lab."

According to Szydagis, if the water is clean enough (little contaminants such as dust particles) and stored in a sufficiently smooth container, it can be cooled below its freezing point of 0 ° C without freezing.

"This is called 'supercooling' and is similar to the fact that water in the microwave can be easily overheated, heated substantially above the boiling point without actually cooking, it's just the opposite, 'he said. "In both cases, the water ends up in a state called 'metastability' that is neither unstable nor quite stable."

This subcooled water turns into snow on an iPhone camera with 120 FPS in slow motion. Picture credits: Joshua E. Martin

In this case, a disturbance can trigger phase transition, freezing and crystallization. "This is not an ordinary freezing and white snow is forming instead of clear ice," he added. "In our laboratory, we cooled liquid water to -20 ° C without freezing it, and it's not the same as lowering the freezing point, like salting your sidewalk, because the water was pure and did not accidentally contaminate with impurities."

The group showed that certain forms of particles that hit the water can freeze microscopically (subatomically) when first subcooled. "Some particles, such as neutrons, can even disperse in the water several times," Szydagis said. "We were able to show this not only with commercially available particle sources, but also with a 'radioactive red' plate from Fiestaware with its orange uranium-based paint from the fifties."

They built a new detector based on the subcooled water and called it "snowball chamber" as it fits well with "bubble" and "cloud chambers". These are technologies from the early to mid-20th century that use cooking and condensation.

Undercooled water is certainly not new. It has been studied for decades by chemists and physicists of condensed matter down to -40 ° C. There are even publications about it that are over 100 years old.

"But we managed to discover a new property of subcooled water," said Szydagis. "To our great surprise, we found that some particles (neutrons), others (gamma rays) do not cause freezing, because this is basic research that has never been done before, there was no guarantee that it would work Try it and see 'approach – the scientific method in its most basic form. We not only have a new detector for fundamental particles, but possibly also for dark matter, since it is assumed that neutrons mimic this. "

The group provides numerous other potential implications for their discovery. These include locating nuclear weapons in cargo for the safety of one's homeland, understanding cloud formation, and pointing out how certain mammal species go to sleep and somehow overcool their blood.

Deformation of the waterdrop surface can increase the likelihood of the drops freezing

More information:
The presentation, "The Snowball Room: Using Chilled Water to Find Lesser Matter of Dark Matter," took place on Sunday, April 14, at Governor's Square 11 at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. Summary:

Provided by
American Physical Society

"Snowball Chamber" Helps Researchers Find Dark Matter with Undercooled Water (2019, April 15)
retrieved on April 15, 2019

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