Atomic Steps Induce the Aligned Growth of Ice Crystals on Graphite Surfaces

Zhouyang Zhang, Yiran Ying, Ming Xu, Chuanlin Zhang, Zhenggang Rao, Shanming Ke, Yangbo Zhou, Haitao Huang, Linfeng Fei

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Heterogeneous ice nucleation on atmospheric aerosols strongly affects the earth's climate, and at the microscopic level, surface-irregularity-induced ice crystallization behaviors are common but crucial. Because of the lack of visual evidence and effective experimental methods, the mechanism of atomic-structure-dependent ice formation on aerosol surfaces is poorly understood. Here we chose highly oriented pyrolytic graphite (HOPG) to represent soot (a primary aerosol), and environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) was performed for in situ observations of ice formation. We found that hexagonal ice crystals show an aligned growth pattern via a two-stage pathway with one a axis coinciding with the direction of atomic step edges on the HOPG surface. Additionally, the ice crystals grow at a noticeably higher speed along this direction. This study reveals the role of atomic surface defects in heterogeneous ice nucleation and may pave the way to control icing-related processes in practical applications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8112–8119
Number of pages8
JournalNano Letters
Issue number11
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Nov 2020


  • aligned growth
  • atomic step
  • ESEM
  • graphite surface
  • Ice crystal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering


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