Do you know that Hot water freeze faster than cold water? | JamiiForums | The Home of Great Thinkers

# Do you know that Hot water freeze faster than cold water?

Discussion in 'Jukwaa la Elimu (Education Forum)' started by Edward Teller, Jan 14, 2011.

1. ### Edward TellerJF-Expert Member

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Jan 14, 2011
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[FONT=&quot]Yes -- a general explanation[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Hot water can in fact freeze faster than cold water for a wide range of experimental conditions. This phenomenon is extremely counter- intuitive, and surprising even to most scientists, but it is in fact real. It has been seen and studied in numerous experiments. While this phenomenon has been known for centuries, and was described by Aristotle, Bacon, and Descartes, it was not introduced to the modern scientific community until 1969, by a Tanzanian high school student named Mpemba. Both the early scientific history of this effect, and the story of Mpemba's rediscovery of it, are interesting in their own right -- Mpemba's story in particular provides a dramatic parable against making snap judgements about what is impossible. This is described separately below.

[/FONT] [FONT=&quot]The phenomenon that hot water may freeze faster than cold is often called the Mpemba effect. Because, no doubt, most readers are extremely skeptical at this point, we should begin by stating precisely what we mean by the Mpemba effect. We start with two containers of water, which are identical in shape, and which hold identical amounts of water. The only difference between the two is that the water in one is at a higher (uniform) temperature than the water in the other. Now we cool both containers, using the exact same cooling process for each container. Under some conditions the initially warmer water will freeze first. If this occurs, we have seen the Mpemba effect. Of course, the initially warmer water will not freeze before the initially cooler water for all initial conditions. If the hot water starts at 99.9°C, and the cold water at 0.01°C, then clearly under those circumstances, the initially cooler water will freeze first. However, under some conditions the initially warmer water will freeze first -- if that happens, you have seen the Mpemba effect. But you will not see the Mpemba effect for just any initial temperatures, container shapes, or cooling conditions.[/FONT]

This seems impossible, right? Many sharp readers may have already come up with a common proof that the Mpemba effect is impossible. The proof usually goes something like this. Say that the initially cooler water starts at 30°C and takes 10 minutes to freeze, while the initially warmer water starts out at 70°C. Now the initially warmer water has to spend some time cooling to get to get down to 30°C, and after that, it's going to take 10 more minutes to freeze. So since the initially warmer water has to do everything that the initially cooler water has to do, plus a little more, it will take at least a little longer, right? What can be wrong with this proof?

What's wrong with this proof is that it implicitly assumes that the water is characterized solely by a single number -- the average temperature. But if other factors besides the average temperature are important, then when the initially warmer water has cooled to an average temperature of 30°C, it may look very different than the initially cooler water (at a uniform 30°C) did at the start. Why? Because the water may have changed when it cooled down from a uniform 70°C to an average 30°C. It could have less mass, less dissolved gas, or convection currents producing a non-uniform temperature distribution. Or it could have changed the environment around the container in the refrigerator. All four of these changes are conceivably important, and each will be considered separately below. So the impossibility proof given above doesn't work. And in fact the Mpemba effect has been observed in a number of controlled experiments
In short, hot water does freeze sooner than cold water under a wide range of circumstances. It is not impossible, and has been seen to occur in a number of experiments. However, despite claims often made by one source or another, there is no well-agreed explanation for how this phenomenon occurs. Different mechanisms have been proposed, but the experimental evidence is inconclusive. For those wishing to read more on the subject, Jearl Walker's article in Scientific American is very readable and has suggestions on how to do home experiments on the Mpemba effect, while the articles by Auerbach and Wojciechowski are two of the more modern papers on the effect.

The story provides a dramatic parable cautioning scientists and teachers against dismissing the observations of non-scientists and against making quick judgements about what is impossible.