A new approach for freezing of aqueous solutions under active control of the nucleation temperature.

Research paper by Ansgar A Petersen, Hendrik H Schneider, Guenter G Rau, Birgit B Glasmacher

Indexed on: 05 Aug '06Published on: 05 Aug '06Published in: Cryobiology


An experimental setup for controlled freezing of aqueous solutions is introduced. The special feature is a mechanism to actively control the nucleation temperature via electrofreezing: an ice nucleus generated at a platinum electrode by the application of an electric high voltage pulse initiates the crystallization of the sample. Using electrofreezing, the nucleation temperature in pure water can be precisely adjusted to a desired value over the whole temperature range between a maximum temperature Tn(max) close to the melting point and the temperature of spontaneous nucleation. However, the presence of additives can inhibit the nucleus formation. The influence of hydroxyethylstarch (HES), glucose, glycerol, additives commonly used in cryobiology, and NaCl on Tn(max) were investigated. While the decrease showed to be moderate for the non-ionic additives, the hindrance of nucleation by ionic NaCl makes the direct application of electrofreezing in solutions with physiological salt concentrations impossible. Therefore, in the multi-sample freezing device presented in this paper, the ice nucleus is produced in a separate volume of pure water inside an electrode cap. This way, the nucleus formation becomes independent of the sample composition. Using electrofreezing rather than conventional seeding methods allows automated freezing of many samples under equal conditions. Experiments performed with model solutions show the reliability and repeatability of this method to start crystallization in the test samples at different specified temperatures. The setup was designed to freeze samples of small volume for basic investigations in the field of cryopreservation and freeze-drying, but the mode of operation might be interesting for many other applications where a controlled nucleation of aqueous solutions is of importance.