Winter Olympics Special: The Slippery Science of Ice Skating

Skating_On_Ice_clip_art_hightBy Michael Q. Bullerdick

Learning how to ice skate is a tricky bit of business that requires athleticism, a healthy sense of balance, and a high pain threshold. Of course, you also need a decent pair of skates and a pond-sized patch of slippery ice. Those last two items are easier to summon than the rest and they have been for a period going on 3,000 years now. But it might be surprising to note—especially during the Winter Olympics—that until just a few years ago, physicists didn’t fully understand how skating worked. More precisely, they lacked a fundamental knowledge of what exactly makes ice slippery.

Sure, they knew that running a thin blade along smooth ice reduces friction in a way that accounts for a good deal of the gliding that makes skating fun. But that’s not all of it. People slip and slide on ice without the benefit of ice skates and even while trying to stand still. Why?

Almost everyone will say that ice is slippery because it’s—well—wet. Except that it isn’t. Not in a purely scientific sense. Ice only feels wet due to the melting effect caused by your much warmer touch. At the freezing point, which any grade school child can tell you is 32 degrees, water crystalizes, meaning it goes completely solid. Yet despite that transformation, and the absence of a liquid lubrication, you can still slip and skate just as well. That fact becomes obvious at rinks where ice temperatures are kept at about 26 degrees, and in the context of subzero conditions, which any ice skater will tell you makes no difference beyond an upgrade in outerwear.

But if water isn’t the thing that puts the “slip” in slippery, what is? In pondering that very question over a century ago, Michael Faraday—one of Albert Einstein’s science heroes—wondered if it was possible for water (liquid) and ice (solid) to exist in a state halfway between each other beyond the freezing point. After pressing two ice cubes together and watching them fuse to form a single block, Faraday hypothesized that ice might perhaps contain an intrinsic “solid but liquid-like” invisible molecular layer, and that such a quasi-layer might even hold steady in subzero temperatures.

Following Faraday’s lead, scientists began turning their attention to pressure and friction. The resulting theory, called the “pressure-melting effect,” asserted that a skater’s weight would exert intense pressure on the point where the blade contacted the ice. In turn, this pressure would generate just enough heat to melt a thin layer of ice for use as a lubricant. This process, the theory continued, would remain undetectable to the naked eye because the thin film of water would instantly refreeze with each glide step.

Not surprisingly given its plausibility, the pressure-melting effect is still routinely referenced as fact. But the theory simply doesn’t hold water—literally or figuratively. For one thing, it fails to completely explain the important point about why people who wear wide-soled shoes still slide on ice even while attempting to stand still, although reduced friction plays a part. For another, there’s the work of Robert M. Rosenburg. In his 2006 article in Physics Today, the emeritus professor of chemistry at Lawrence University proved that the average skater exerts a pressure of only 50 pounds per square inch, which results in a melting temperature of only .03 degrees at contact point. That’s nowhere near a steep enough drop to melt ice.

As it turns out, the critical mystery lubricant is not water but—as Faraday had surmised—the ice itself. More specifically, it’s the tiny ice molecules that comprise the top layer of any frozen block. Although these molecules are bound to the ones below them within the larger mass, they are not as solidly compressed. As a result, they can readily fuse with new ice layers, as Faraday demonstrated with his ice cubes, and they are loose enough to get pushed free and roll around, making them as efficient a lubricant as water molecules.

As difficult as it is to believe, that critical point wasn’t proven until 1996, when Gabor A. Samorjai, a surface chemist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, bombarded three thin ice layers with low energy electron diffraction, a technique used to determine crystalline structures. The procedure should have yielded similar scattering signatures for all three layers of ice molecules but Somorjai’s tests revealed only two. That’s because the molecules in the upper third layer, although solid, were behaving much like a liquid, vibrating at amplitudes three or four times faster than those in the lower layers. In short, Somorjai had confirmed the existence of Faraday’s intrinsic, “liquid-like” layer of ice. What’s more, he also confirmed, as Faraday had surmised, that such a layer was present even in subzero temperatures. Somorjai’s tests went as low as minus 235 degrees.

That’s far too drastic a temperature for ice-skaters to risk their lives testing but sporting goods manufacturers are currently using the lab findings to experiment with materials, finishing techniques, blade curvatures and edge cuts of their skates. And research development departments across various industries are doing the same, referencing the findings to improve stability, grip and the stopping power of tires and footwear that are set to hit the market in the coming years. Until that happens—or unless you’re an ice skater—it’s probably best to keep off the ice.

image_pdfimage_print

184 thoughts on “Winter Olympics Special: The Slippery Science of Ice Skating

  1. I drop a comment each time I liҡe a aгticle on a website or
    I have something to valuable to contribute to the disϲussion.
    It is caused by the sincerness displayed in the article
    I read. And after this pօst Winter Olympics Spеcial: The Slippery Science of Ice Skating | Michael Bullerdick Media & Pսblishing
    ConsultancyMichael Bullеrdick Media & Publishing Consultancy.

    I was actually excitеd enough tօ drօp a
    thought 😛 I do have 2 questions for you if it’s allгigɦt.
    Could it be only me or does it give the impression
    like sߋme of these responses come across like they аrе cominǥ from brain ԁead individualѕ?
    😛 And, if you are posting at other places, I woսld like tօ keep
    up with you. Would you list everү one of all youг ϲommuոal
    pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook paǥe or twitter feed?

  2. Itѕ like you read my thoughts! You appear to ցrasp a lot about this, like you ԝrote the ebook
    in it or something. I fesl that you just can do with some % to force
    the mеssage homе a little bit, however instead of that, that is excellent blog.
    A fantastic read. I’ll certainly be back.

  3. Ңi, i гead your blog from time to time and i own
    a similar one anԀ i was just curious if you get a lot of spam comments?

    If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can suggest?
    I get ѕo much lately it’s drivinɡ me mad so any аssistance is very much appreciated.

  4. Ӊi, Neat post. There is an issue with your web site iո web exploгer, would test this?
    IE still is the marketplace leader and a large element of other people will leave out your
    fantastic writing dսe to this proЬlem.

  5. Dоes your blog ɦave a сontact page? I’m having a tough time locating it
    but, I’d like to senԁ you ann e-mail. I’ve got some suggestioոs for your blog you might Ьe interested in hearing.
    Either way, gгeat blog and I look forward to sеeing it develop օver time.

  6. Ԝonderful article! That iѕ tɦe type of iոfo that arе supposed
    to be shared across the internet. Disgrace on the seek engines fοг not poѕitioning this put up highеr!

    Сome on over and visit my site . Thanқ you =)

  7. Doеs your site have a contact page? I’m having a
    tough time lօcating it but, I’d like to shoot
    you an email. I’ve got some suggestions for your blog yοu might be interested in hearing.

    Εither way, great website and I look forward to seeing
    it grow οver time.

  8. Hello there, I discօvered your web site by means
    of Google whilst searching for a ѕimіlar subject, your site
    came up, it appears great. I’ve bookmarkеd it in my google bookmarks.

    Hello tɦere, just turned iոto aware off your bblog thru Goоgle, and found thаt it
    is really informative. I am oing to be careful for brussels.
    I will be gratеful when you coոtinue thi in future.
    A lot of folks will be benefited out of your writinǥ.

    Cheегѕ!

  9. I’m cսгious to find out what blog platfoгm yoս’re using?
    I’m еxperiencing some small security problems withh
    my latest website aոd I’d like to find something more safeguarded.
    Do you have any recommendations?

  10. Fantastic beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your web site, how can i subscribe for a blog site? The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided bright clear idea

  11. Someone neceѕsarily help to make sevеrely articles I
    might state. This iss the very first time Ι frequented your web page and
    to this point? I amazеd with the аnalysis yоu made to make tthis particular publіsh incredible.
    Great task!

  12. I just want to say I am just new to blogs and certainly savored this web site. Very likely I’m want to bookmark your website . You surely come with fabulous posts. With thanks for revealing your website.

  13. I am curious to find out what blߋg system you have been utilizing?

    I’m having some minor security issues witҺ my latest
    blog and I’d like to find something moƿre secure. Do you have any solutions?

  14. Howdƴ! I could have sworn I’ve viѕited this աebsitе before bbut after looking at some of the articles I reаlized it’s new to me.

    Nonetheless, I’m defiոitely pleased I discovered it and I’ll bе
    book-marking it and checking back regularly!

  15. Hellߋ, i read yoսг Ьlog from time to time and i own a similаr
    one and i was just wondering іf you get a lot of spam fеedback?
    If so how doo you prevent it, ɑnƴ plugin or anything yoս caո recommеnd?

    I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any help is very much apρreciated.

  16. Thank you for some other great article. The place else may just anyone get that type of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a presentation next week, and I’m on the look for such information.

  17. This is very interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your excellent post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks!

  18. beautiful post. I am amazed as contained marrow. I’ll try to sink in much less frequently and see this web page. Godspeed is in your endeavors. Describing posts on your web page. I was inspired to you. I would recommend to several and insert to tuck.

  19. I am curious to find out what blog system you are working with? I’m having some minor security problems with my latest site and I’d like to find something more safe. Do you have any recommendations?

  20. Pingback: go to the website

  21. Have you ever thought about publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites? I have a blog based upon on the same ideas you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my audience would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email.

  22. Hello! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone 3gs!

    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and
    look forward to all your posts! Keep up the excellent work!

  23. I blog often and I really thank you for your content. This great article has truly peaked my interest. I will take a note of your website and keep checking for new details about once per week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.

  24. Greetings from Colorado! I’m bored at work so I decided to browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the information you present here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home. I’m shocked at how fast your blog loaded on my cell phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, fantastic site!

  25. Very great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to
    mention that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts.
    After all I will be subscribing to your feed and
    I hope you write once more very soon!

  26. Hi there, I do think your website could possibly be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your site in Safari, it looks fine however, if opening in I.E., it has some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Apart from that, excellent site!

  27. You’re so cool! I don’t believe I have read through something like this
    before. So nice to find someone with some genuine thoughts on this subject.
    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up.
    This web site is something that’s needed on the internet, someone with some
    originality!

    Feel free to surf to my web-site :: telecharger snapchat; Jessica,

  28. whoah this blog is great i love reading your articles. Keep up the great paintings! You recognize, many individuals are looking round for this info, you can help them greatly.

  29. Hiya! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask.
    Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa?
    My website goes over a lot of the same subjects
    as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other.
    If you’re interested feel free to send me an email.

    I look forward to hearing from you! Excellent
    blog by the way!

    Feel free to visit my web blog; telecharger teamviewer

  30. Magnificent goods from you, man. I’ve consider your stuff previous to
    and you’re just too wonderful. I really like what you’ve
    obtained right here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which by which you assert it.
    You’re making it enjoyable and you continue to care for to stay it
    sensible. I can not wait to learn far more from you. That is actually a
    tremendous website.

    Look into my web page :: telecharger malwarebytes

  31. I think this is among the most significant info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But should remark on few general things, The website style is wonderful, the articles is really great : D. Good job, cheers|

  32. I am really impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a nice blog like this one nowadays..

  33. I’m not sure exactly why but this blog is loading incredibly slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this problem or is it a issue on my end?

    I’ll check back later on and see if the problem still exists.

  34. Excellent blog! Do you have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little
    lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a
    free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option?
    There are so many choices out there that I’m completely confused ..
    Any ideas? Many thanks!

    My web-site – watch locke

  35. Just want to say your article is as amazing. The clarity in your post is just great
    and i could assume you are an expert on this subject.

    Fine with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated
    with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the rewarding work.

    My web-site – download chef

  36. I was just searching for this info for a while. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your web site. I wonder what is the lack of Google strategy that don’t rank this kind of informative websites in top of the list. Normally the top sites are full of garbage.

  37. Howdy! I understand this is somewhat off-topic but I had to ask.

    Does building a well-established website such as yours require a large amount of work?

    I’m brand new to blogging but I do write in my
    diary daily. I’d like to start a blog so I will be able to share my own experience and feelings online.
    Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendations or tips for brand new aspiring bloggers.
    Thankyou!

    my webpage kolikkopelit netissa

  38. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your blog?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.

    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or 2 images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  39. After checking out a number of the articles on your site, I honestly like your
    technique of writing a blog. I bookmarked it to
    my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back in the near future.
    Please check out my web site as well and tell me what you think.

    my page: spilleautomater

  40. Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thank you so
    much, However I am encountering issues with your RSS.
    I don’t know why I cannot join it. Is there anybody else getting
    the same RSS issues? Anybody who knows the answer
    will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  41. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

  42. Howdy are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and set up my own. Do you need any html coding knowledge to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

  43. Hi there I am so excited I found your web site, I really found you
    by error, while I was searching on Yahoo for something else, Nonetheless I
    am here now and would just like to say thanks for a marvelous post
    and a all round enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design),
    I don’t have time to look over it all at the moment but I have
    bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the excellent work.

    Also visit my web site: watch belle

  44. Hi, it’s hard to find michaelbullerdick.com in google, i found it on 22 spot, you should build some high quality backlinks, i know what can help you, just search in google for – edaya traffic increase

  45. Excellent website here! Also your internet site loads up quite fast! What host are you making use of? Can I get your affiliate backlink for your host? I wish my web site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  46. Can I just say what a relief to discover someone who truly knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You genuinely know how to bring an difficulty to light and make it important. Far more folks must read this and understand this side of the story. I cant consider youre not much more well-known simply because you genuinely have the gift.

  47. Normally I do not comment on your website. I’m much more of your silent type but I wonder, is this wordpress because I’m considering of switching my personal blog from blogspot to wordpress.

  48. Howdy just stumbled upon your website via Yahoo after I typed in, “Winter Olympics Special: The Slippery Science of Ice Skating | Michael Bullerdick Media & Publishing ConsultancyMichael Bullerdick Media & Publishing Consultancy” or something similar (can’t quite remember exactly). In any case, I’m glad I found it because your content is exactly what I’m searching for (writing a college paper) and I hope you don’t mind if I gather some information from here and I will of course credit you as the reference. Thank you very much. Kindest regards Minecraft

  49. It is really a cool and beneficial piece of details. I’m satisfied that you simply just shared this valuable information and facts with us. Please keep us informed like this. Thank you for sharing.

  50. I have recently started a website, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work. “The man who fights for his fellow-man is a better man than the one who fights for himself.” by Clarence Darrow.

  51. I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here frequently. I’m quite certain I will learn plenty of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

  52. Just desire to say your article is as surprising.
    The clarity for your put up is just spectacular and i could
    suppose you’re an expert in this subject. Well along with your permission allow me to grasp your feed to
    keep updated with impending post. Thanks 1,000,000 and please carry on the enjoyable work.

    Visit my homepage :: nothing here (kmjt.comxa.com)

  53. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

  54. Hiya, I’m really glad I have found this information. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and internet and this is actually frustrating. A good blog with exciting content, this is what I need. Thanks for keeping this site, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Can’t find it.

  55. Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such magnificent information being shared freely out there.

  56. I think this is among the most significant info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on few general things, The website style is perfect, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  57. This is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to seeking more of your magnificent post. Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks!

  58. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly return.

  59. hey there and thank you for your info – I have certainly picked up something new from right here. I did however expertise several technical points using this site, since I experienced to reload the web site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will sometimes affect your placement in google and can damage your high quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Anyway I’m adding this RSS to my email and could look out for a lot more of your respective intriguing content. Ensure that you update this again very soon..

  60. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  61. Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you are a great author. I will be sure to bookmark your blog and may come back down the road. I want to encourage that you continue your great work, have a nice weekend!|

  62. I’ve learn several good stuff here. Certainly value bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much attempt you put to create such a magnificent informative web site.

  63. Hello superb blog! Does running a blog like this require a massive amount work?

    I have no understanding of programming however I had been hoping to start my own
    blog in the near future. Anyway, if you have any recommendations or
    techniques for new blog owners please share. I understand this is off subject however I simply needed to ask.
    Thank you!

    My web page :: deer hunter 2014 hack

  64. Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to mention that I have truly loved surfing around your weblog posts. After all I will be subscribing for your rss feed and I’m hoping you write again soon!

  65. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I am going to watch out for brussels. I’ll be grateful if you continue this in future. Numerous people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  66. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any points for inexperienced blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

  67. Hey there just came upon your blog via Bing after I entered in, “Winter Olympics Special: The Slippery Science of Ice Skating | Michael Bullerdick Media & Publishing ConsultancyMichael Bullerdick Media & Publishing Consultancy” or something similar (can’t quite remember exactly). Anyhow, I’m grateful I found it because your content is exactly what I’m looking for (writing a university paper) and I hope you don’t mind if I gather some material from here and I will of course credit you as the reference. Thank you so much. Kindest regards sitab

  68. I am not sure where you’re getting your information, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for great information I was looking for this info for my mission.

  69. Hey! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to give it a look. I’m definitely loving the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Wonderful blog and fantastic design.

  70. I found your blog web site on google and examine just a few of your early posts. Continue to maintain up the superb operate. I simply further up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. In search of forward to studying more from you in a while!

  71. Hi! Someone in my Facebook group shared this internet site with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely loving the info. I’m book-marking and will probably be tweeting this to my followers! Outstanding weblog and amazing style and style.

  72. *Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to find somebody with some original thoughts on this subject. realy thank you for starting this up. this website is something that is needed on the web, someone with a little originality. useful job for bringing something new to the internet!wow gold

  73. This really is really serious, You’re an incredibly efficient writer. I’ve joined with your feed as well as will enjoy finding your incredible write-ups. In addition, I’ve shared your blog post with our social networking sites.

  74. I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your sites really nice, keep it up!
    I’ll go ahead and bookmark your website to come back later on. Cheers

  75. Thanks for finally writing about > Winter Olympics Special: The Slippery Science of Ice Skating |
    Michael Bullerdick Media & Publishing ConsultancyMichael Bullerdick Media & Publishing Consultancy < Liked it!

  76. Have you ever considered creating an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog centered on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors would enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.|

  77. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the layout of your website? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  78. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this fantastic blog!
    I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to
    my Google account. I look forward to new updates and will
    talk about this website with my Facebook group.
    Talk soon!

  79. Hiya, I’m really glad I’ve found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish just about gossips and web and this is actually annoying. A good blog with exciting content, this is what I need. Thanks for keeping this website, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Cant find it.

  80. I need to to thank you for this good read!! I absolutely enjoyed
    every bit of it. I’ve got you saved as a favorite to check out new stuff you post…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.