Perspective: Surface freezing in water: A nexus of experiments and simulations

Amir Haji-Akbari, Pablo G. Debenedetti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Surface freezing is a phenomenon in which crystallization is enhanced at a vapor-liquid interface. In some systems, such as n-alkanes, this enhancement is dramatic and results in the formation of a crystalline layer at the free interface even at temperatures slightly above the equilibrium bulk freezing temperature. There are, however, systems in which the enhancement is purely kinetic and only involves faster nucleation at or near the interface. The first, thermodynamic, type of surface freezing is easier to confirm in experiments, requiring only the verification of the existence of crystalline order at the interface. The second, kinetic, type of surface freezing is far more difficult to prove experimentally. One material that is suspected of undergoing the second type of surface freezing is liquid water. Despite strong indications that the freezing of liquid water is kinetically enhanced at vapor-liquid interfaces, the findings are far from conclusive, and the topic remains controversial. In this perspective, we present a simple thermodynamic framework to understand conceptually and distinguish these two types of surface freezing. We then briefly survey fifteen years of experimental and computational work aimed at elucidating the surface freezing conundrum in water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number060901
JournalJournal of Chemical Physics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 14 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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