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Why does water expand into ice, when it is frozen?

Why does water expand into ice, when it is frozen?
Carly from Kent (Age 5-14)

Why does water expand when frozen?
In contrast to other things that contract when frozen, why does water buck this principle and expand?
Tom Winstanley from Cardiff (Age 45-54)

Why does water expand as it freezes, and is there any other substance that expands on?
David Wraight from Wiltshire (Age 55+)

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One Response

  1. Water is the only non-metallic element known to expand on freezing. Silicon, Antimony and Gallium also expand when frozen.

    This is to do with the crystal structure that water forms when it is frozen. There are actually over a dozen different forms of ice which form under different conditions, so whether it is frozen quickly or slowly, whether there it is under pressure, or just depending on the amount of air caught up in the water.

    Water molecules line themselves up in a way that means that they can bond onto one another and so is governed by attractive forces in the water itself. The specific crystal form that water takes is hexagonally based, and with the water molecules this is not a very efficient shape in terms of volume compared to how close they can get to each other in a liquid form.

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