Study reveals low density water structure in a cryoprotectant matrix

Scientists from the School of Physics and Astronomy have determined the impact of cryoprotectant molecules on water, and gained access to the structure of water at temperatures far below zero degrees.

The study was highlighted on the cover of The Journal of Physical Chemistry B, with cover art designed by Leeds Physics undergraduate Jamie Ridley.


Leeds physicists Dr Lorna Dougan and Dr James Towey showed that when the cryoprotectant molecule glycerol was mixed with water, the molecules nanosegregated into a mesh or 'or sponge' that locked small clusters of water molecules into pockets. They then cooled the mixture down to 238 K and found that these water clusters persisted. In normal freezing, water molecules link up to form ice crystals, however in the cryoprotectant mesh the water molecules remained liquid.  The study revealed that in this matrix the water forms a low density structure which is protected by an extensive and encapsulating glycerol interface.

The paper can be found here:

The study was supported by the Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council, through a PhD studentship to Dr James Towey, and the European Research Council, through a fellowship to Dr Lorna Dougan.