New York University Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Navigation Skip to Sub Navigation

Hold the Ice: Chemists Reveal Behavior of Antifreeze Molecules

January 3, 2013

NYU chemists have discovered a family of antifreeze molecules that prevent ice formation when water temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Their findings, which were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), may lead to new methods for improving food storage and industrial products.

“The growth and presence of ice can be damaging to everything from our vehicles to food to human tissue, so learning how to control this process would be remarkably beneficial,” says co-author Kent Kirshenbaum, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Chemistry. “Our findings reveal how molecules ward off the freezing process and give new insights into how we might apply these principles elsewhere.”

A common misperception is that water necessarily freezes when temperatures reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit or zero degrees Celsius. Not so, scientists point out.

“Nature has its own anti-freeze molecules,” explains co-author Michael Ward, chair of NYU’s Department of Chemistry. “We simply don’t have the details on how they work.”

To explore this topic, the researchers created artificial, simplified versions of protein molecules that, in nature, inhibit or delay freezing. These molecules were placed in microscopic droplets of water, and ice formation was monitored by video microscopy and X-ray analysis. The experiments allowed the researchers to determine which critical chemical features were required to stymie ice crystallization.

The experimental results showed that there are two ways the molecules adopt antifreeze behavior. They work to reduce the temperature at which ice begins to form, and, once ice does begin to form, they interact in ways that slow down its accumulation.

The researchers then investigated the molecules’ structural features that might explain these capabilities. Their observations showed molecules act as “ice crystallization regulators.” Ice has a crystal structure, and the antifreeze molecules may associate with these crystal surfaces in ways that inhibit the growth of these crystals, thus delaying or halting the freezing process.

The study’s other co-authors were: Mia Huang, an NYU doctoral student at the time of the study and now a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University; David Ehre, a postdoctoral fellow in NYU’s Department of Chemistry; Qi Jiang, an NYU doctoral student; and Chunhua Hu, an NYU research scholar.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and by the NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) program.

NYU’s center is one of 30 MRSECs in the country. These NSF-backed centers employ interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary materials research to address fundamental problems in science and engineering.


Type: Article

Hold the Ice: Chemists Reveal  Behavior of Antifreeze Molecules

Search News



NYU In the News

NYU Offers Financial Aid to Undocumented Students

The Wall Street Journal reported that NYU will begin offering scholarship aid to undocumented students for the school year beginning next September.

NYU Adopts Lean LaunchPad Program to Teach Entrepreneurship

Startup guru Steve Blank, in a Huffington Post blog, described how NYU adopted the Lean LaunchPad model to teach entrepreneurship to students and faculty at NYU.

Biology Professor Jane Carlton Examines Wastewater for the City’s Microbiome

The New York Times’ Science Times column “Well” profiled Biology Professor Jane Carlton and her research project to sequence microbiome of New York City by examining wastewater samples.

Steinhardt Professors Use a Play as Therapy

The New York Times wrote about a play written by Steinhardt Music Professor Robert Landy about the relationship between Adjunct Professor Cecilia Dintino, a clinical psychologist in the Drama Therapy Program, and a patient, former Broadway actress Jill Powell.

NYU Public Health Experts Urge Strengthening Local Health Systems to Combat Ebola

Dean Cheryl Healton of the Global Institute of Public Health and Public Health Professor Christopher Dickey wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post saying international health agencies need to strengthen their presence in countries at the local level to prevent future ebola outbreaks.

NYU Footer