Silica as a Model Ice-Nucleating Particle to Study the Effects of Crystallinity, Porosity, and Low-Density Surface Functional Groups on Immersion Freezing

Katherine E. Marak, Jilian H. Roebuck, Esther Chong, Haley Poitras, Miriam Arak Freedman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Aerosol particles can facilitate heterogeneous ice formation in the troposphere and stratosphere by acting as ice-nucleating particles, modulating cloud formation/dissipation, precipitation, and their microphysical properties. Heterogeneous ice nucleation is driven by ice embryo formation on the particle surface, which can be influenced by features of the surface such as crystallinity, surface structure, lattice structure, defects, and functional groups. To characterize the effect of crystallinity, pores, and surface functional groups toward ice nucleation, samples of comparable silica systems, specifically, quartz, ordered and nonordered porous amorphous silica samples with a range of pore sizes (2-11 nm), and nonporous functionalized silica spheres, were used as models for mineral dust aerosol particles. The ice nucleation activity of these samples was investigated by using an immersion freezing chamber. The results suggest that crystallinity has a larger effect than porosity on ice nucleation activity, as all of the porous silica samples investigated had lower onset freezing temperatures and lower ice nucleation activities than quartz. Our findings also suggest that pores alone are not sufficient to serve as effective active sites and need some additional chemical or physical property, like crystallinity, to nucleate ice in immersion mode freezing. The addition of a low density of organic functional groups to nonporous samples showed little enhancement compared to the inherent nucleation activity of silica with native surface hydroxyl groups. The density of functional groups investigated in this work suggests that a different arrangement of surface groups may be needed for enhanced immersion mode ice nucleation activity. In summary, crystallinity dictates the ice nucleation activity of silica samples rather than porosity or low-density surface functional groups. This work has broader implications regarding the climate impacts resulting from ice cloud formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5965-5973
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry A
Issue number35
StatePublished - Sep 8 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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