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Ice nucleation is the crucial step for ice formation in atmospheric clouds and therefore underlies climatologically relevant precipitation and radiative properties. Progress has been made in understanding the roles of temperature, supersaturation, and material properties, but an explanation for the efficient ice nucleation occurring when a particle contacts a supercooled water drop has been elusive for over half a century. Here, we explore ice nucleation initiated at constant temperature and observe that mechanical agitation induces freezing of supercooled water drops at distorted contact lines. Results show that symmetric motion of supercooled water on a vertically oscillating substrate does not freeze, no matter how we agitate it. However, when the moving contact line is distorted with the help of trace amounts of oil or inhomogeneous pinning on the substrate, freezing can occur at temperatures much higher than in a static droplet, equivalent to ∼1010 increase in nucleation rate. Several possible mechanisms are proposed to explain the observations. One plausible explanation among them, decreased pressure due to interface curvature, is explored theoretically and compared with the observational results quasiquantitatively. Indeed, the observed freezing-temperature increase scales with contact line speed in a manner consistent with the pressure hypothesis. Whatever the mechanism, the experiments demonstrate a strong preference for ice nucleation at three-phase contact lines compared to the two-phase interface, and they also show that movement and distortion of the contact line are necessary contributions to stimulating the nucleation process.

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©2018 American Physical Society. Article deposited here in compliance with publisher policies. Publisher's version of record:

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Physical Review E


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Physics Commons



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