Pyroelectricity of water ice

Hanfu Wang, Richard C. Bell, Martin J. Iedema, Gregory K. Schenter, Kai Wu, James P. Cowin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Water ice usually is thought to have zero pyroelectricity by symmetry. However, biasing it with ions breaks the symmetry because of the induced partial dipole alignment. This unmasks a large pyroelectricity. Ions were soft-landed upon 1 μm films of water ice at temperatures greater than 160 K. When cooled below 140-150 K, the dipole alignment locks in. Work function measurements of these films then show high and reversible pyroelectric activity from 30 to 150 K. For an initial ∼10 V induced by the deposited ions at 160 K, the observed bias below 150 K varies approximately as 10 V × (T/150 K)2. This implies that water has pyroelectric coefficients as large as that of many commercial pyroelectrics, such as lead zirconate titanate (PZT). The pyroelectricity of water ice, not previously reported, is in reasonable agreement with that predicted using harmonic analysis of a model system of SPC ice. The pyroelectricity is observed in crystalline and compact amorphous ice, deuterated or not. This implies that for water ice between 0 and 150 K (such as astrophysical ices), temperature changes can induce strong electric fields (∼10 MV/m) that can influence their chemistry, ion trajectories, or binding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6379-6389
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number20
StatePublished - May 22 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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