Ice-nine and physical laws

  • #1
Does the fictional substance ice-nine in Kurt Vonnegut's Cats Cradle violate any physical laws, or is it merely something that does not exit?
 

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  • #2
anorlunda
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It sounds very similar to another fictional material -- polywater. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywater

A "seed" material sounds to me like a catalyst. We actually do use catalysts in engineering, so obviously they don't violate the laws of physics.

Catalysis is the process of altering the rate of a chemical reaction by adding a substance known as a catalyst. Catalysts are not consumed in the catalyzed reaction hence they are unchanged after the reaction.

Some might say that changes of state, like freezing and evaporation, are not chemical reactions. But I say it is close enough for SF purposes.
 
  • #3
Dale
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Ice IX is an actual state of ice. I don’t know if the fictional version has any similarities to the real thing
 
  • #4
hutchphd
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I am huge fan of Vonnegut: we share a midwestern town and a pretty good college. I also recommend son Mark Vonnegut MD and his writings about going crazy.

I see from Wikipedia that there are, in fact, 19 recognized phases of water on the phase diagram. Kurt Vonnegut's brother was a chemist who worked extensively in efforts to seed clouds to produce rain, so he was not ignorant of this: I believe there likely were eight known phases in the early sixties hence the nine.
The premise of ice nine is that a single seed crystal of this form of ice when dropped into the ocean precipitates formation of ice in a form stable at STP with obviously unpleasant consequences. The fact that this process had not occurred spontaneously over the most recent lifetime of liquid water on planet earth puts some extreme conditions on the properties of ice nine: but I cannot produce a fundamental argument forbidding the possibility.
An interesting question ??
 
  • #5
256bits
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I suppose a story about WaterVapour9, turning all liquid water to steam would be readily seen as totally improbable.
 
  • #6
hutchphd
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I think you could make a free energy argument against vape9 is pretty convincing.
In the beginning of the Manhattan Project there was a brief worry about initiating an atmospheric conflagration with the a-bomb but that was pretty quickly shown impossible by Hans Bethe and others. I think the worry was a propagating fusion event.
Turns out Prof Bethe was correct, so here we are..
 
  • #7
Andy Resnick
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Does the fictional substance ice-nine in Kurt Vonnegut's Cats Cradle violate any physical laws, or is it merely something that does not exit?
As described, the process is highly exothermic and thermodynamic considerations are violated by the author's description:

https://is.muni.cz/el/sci/podzim2016/C4020/um/pom/ice-9.pdf

However, the physical concept of a room temperature 'seed crystal' that induces a large-scale phase change with catastrophic consequences does find an expression in prions:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-47781-6
 
  • #8
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Not sure how the freezing point of water itself could be changed - H is H and O is O, the novel implies that Ice 9 irrevocably changes this basic attribute for all water it comes into contact with

As an aside, curious if one can theoretically derive the freezing point of water (or any other substance) from its basic chemistry / QM properties?
 
  • #9
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Not sure how the freezing point of water itself could be changed - H is H and O is O, the novel implies that Ice 9 irrevocably changes this basic attribute for all water it comes into contact with
The melting point (and solubility) of a substance is always relative to a specific solid form.
A well known example is P. "P is P". Yet P freezes at 44 C to white phosphorus... unless and until it freezes into red phosphorus. While liquid phosphorus boils at 280 Celsius, red phosphorus sublimes at 400 C without melting, and under pressure melts at 590 C.
P remains P. The change is not irrevocable. When you sublime red phosphorus, the vapour is identical to the vapour of liquid phosphorus, and can be condensed back to liquid phosphorus, and frozen into white phosphorus.
As an aside, curious if one can theoretically derive the freezing point of water (or any other substance) from its basic chemistry / QM properties?
You could, but you would have to model the solid, too.
 
  • #10
hutchphd
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It is certainly possible to create supercooled water that has T<0C and remains in that state until provided a nucleation center. I do not know the thermodynamics of the sequence.
This should be considered the archetype for ice9. For what it is worth heres a demo:
As described, the process is highly exothermic and thermodynamic considerations are violated by the author's description:

https://is.muni.cz/el/sci/podzim2016/C4020/um/pom/ice-9.pdf

I don't know what this guy (Prof.Liberko) is talking about (nor does he I think). I find his closing "notes" particularly silly and his remarks about Vonnegut and scientists particularly uninformed:
 

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