Large variation of vacancy formation energies in the surface of crystalline ice

Nat Mater. 2011 Oct;10(10):794-8. doi: 10.1038/nmat3096.


Resolving the atomic structure of the surface of ice particles within clouds, over the temperature range encountered in the atmosphere and relevant to understanding heterogeneous catalysis on ice, remains an experimental challenge. By using first-principles calculations, we show that the surface of crystalline ice exhibits a remarkable variance in vacancy formation energies, akin to an amorphous material. We find vacancy formation energies as low as ~0.1-0.2 eV, which leads to a higher than expected vacancy concentration. Because a vacancy's reactivity correlates with its formation energy, ice particles may be more reactive than previously thought. We also show that vacancies significantly reduce the formation energy of neighbouring vacancies, thus facilitating pitting and contributing to pre-melting and quasi-liquid layer formation. These surface properties arise from proton disorder and the relaxation of geometric constraints, which suggests that other frustrated materials may possess unusual surface characteristics.