The role of phase separation and related topography in the exceptional ice-nucleating ability of alkali feldspars†
Our understanding of crystal nucleation is a limiting factor in many fields, not least in the atmospheric sciences. It was recently found that feldspar, a component of airborne desert dust, plays a dominant role in triggering ice formation in clouds, but the origin of this effect was unclear. By investigating the structure/property relationships of a wide range of feldspars, we demonstrate that alkali feldspars with certain microtextures, related to phase separation into Na and K-rich regions, show exceptional ice-nucleating abilities in supercooled water. We found no correlation between ice-nucleating efficiency and the crystal structures or the chemical compositions of these active feldspars, which suggests that specific topographical features associated with these microtextures are key in the activity of these feldspars. That topography likely acts to promote ice nucleation, improves our understanding of ice formation in clouds, and may also enable the design and manufacture of bespoke nucleating materials for uses such as cloud seeding and cryopreservation.