Ice-nine and physical laws

In summary: That article is edifying and Prof. Liberko knows what he's talking about. He's right about it all (idk about the Vonnegut anecdote though). He mentions the supercooled liquid analogy you provided here. However, he does know the thermodynamics of the sequence, which he lays out succinctly the introductory lesson. Freezing is an exothermic reaction, so it would release heat to the surroundings and warm them up. Since ice IV has such a high freezing point, the amount of heat released would be tremendous.Furthermore, as far as his editorializing goes, he is making a comment on how literature portrays scientists and how society regards scientists; he's not impugning Vonnegut's reverence for
  • #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
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
Ice IX is an actual state of ice. I don’t know if the fictional version has any similarities to the real thing
 
  • #4
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 ??
 
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  • #5
I suppose a story about WaterVapour9, turning all liquid water to steam would be readily seen as totally improbable.
 
  • #6
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
Randy Subers said:
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
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
BWV said:
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.
BWV said:
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.
 
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  • #10
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 here's a demo:

Andy Resnick said:
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:
 
  • #11
hutchphd said:
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 here's a demo:
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:


That article is edifying and Prof. Liberko knows what he's talking about. He's right about it all (idk about the Vonnegut anecdote though). He mentions the supercooled liquid analogy you provided here. However, he does know the thermodynamics of the sequence, which he lays out succinctly the introductory lesson. Freezing is an exothermic reaction, so it would release heat to the surroundings and warm them up. Since ice IV has such a high freezing point, the amount of heat released would be tremendous.

Furthermore, as far as his editorializing goes, he is making a comment on how literature portrays scientists and how society regards scientists; he's not impugning Vonnegut's reverence for science. He doesn't scold Vonnegut for his impersonal depiction of the scientist either, but simply uses the opportunity to point it out as an insight into how society may view science. That said, perhaps Vonnegut should read the notes at the end (and the introduction) of the article. If he really thinks "science is magic that works," then certainly he should want to take a more considered look at the magicians themselves, too.
 
  • #12
tuttut said:
That said, perhaps Vonnegut should read the notes at the end (and the introduction) of the article. If he really thinks "science is magic that works," then certainly he should want to take a more considered look at the magicians themselves, too.

Unfortunately that will be inconvenient in his present state.
 
  • #13
H2O is a pretty simple, and common, molecule. If "ice-9", as Vonnegut described it, was possible under normal conditions, I think it would have already happened.

BTW, as previously mentioned, prions are like this.
 
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  • #14
I always thought of it as analogous to false vacuum decay (but inverted).

1686882312983.png
DaveE said:
If it was possible ... I think it would have already happened.
Luckily, doens't apply to this one or we'd all cease to exist!
 
  • #15
hutchphd said:
Unfortunately that will be inconvenient in his present state.
🥺
 

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