Thursday, February 23, 2006

Why is ice slippery?

Since we're about to witness an orgy of Olympian ice-skating tonight, you are probably wondering: What makes ice slippery?

Well, a recent New York Times article attempted to explain it, but you might be surprised that ... nobody knows! Oh yes, there are new theories and long-held beliefs, but it simply hasn't been proven.

It might have to do with the more mobile top layer of atoms on the surface of ice. Or the heat of pressure caused by a skating blade. Or just the heat from friction caused by traveling across it. But nobody knows for sure.

But it might shock you to know that legions of scientists are, at this very moment, trying to find out! Irina Slutskaya probably won't be waiting to find out, but I will.


Chancelucky said...

I'd always thought the whole bit I'd learned in high school chemistry that had something to do with the ice around the blade melting and becoming this puddle of slippery liquid was proven.

This reminds me of the whole why planes fly thing, particularly jet planes. The official reason shifted during my own lifetime.

I suppose if judging ice skating competitions has to be mysterious. The physical basis for why we can skate at all might as well be too.

In the meantime, I left my last lottery ticket in a pair of pants that I put through the washing machine.

SingingSkies said...

If slippery only had to do with ice skates, that'd be one thing. But ice is slippery whether you're attempting to skate on it, or walk on it, drive on it or just plain move it from one place to another (as in ice cubes).

I suspect that ice keeps changing what makes it slippery just so some scientists will have something else to keep them busy throughout their lifetimes, in addition to the important life-changing things they work on throughout their careers (and on sleepless nights).

Me, I'll stick to roller skates any day. At least I know why they're slippery!

Melanie said...

In high school chemistry, we learned that the lower the temperature, the more the ice "sublimes" and releases water as a gas. I think it is that little layer of gas that makes it slippery.

Ron Petitt said...

"Why is ice slippery?" I have pondered that question several times this week as I shoveled snow out of my driveway. Our first real accumulation of snow this season and the timing of your article is perfect.

And I know the answer..."It isn't until you step on it!"

Hope to see you my next trip down.