What is the hair-like "polymer" that condenses on the caps of the plastic cell vial? Inside vial are cells in a mixture of FBS and DMSO. The vials were frozen slowly in a special isopropanol-filled container (isopropanol does not touch the vials) to -80 degrees celsius, then put on dry-ice to move to a liquid nitrogen cryogenic freezer. The hair-like crystals appear to be water, but bend toward my finger when nearby, like static attraction between a comb and faucet stream.

I suspect the has something to do with DMSO/isopropanol leaking out, and the very low temperatures that causes this strange condensation pattern, but I'm not sure. stange condensation pattern that responds to static attraction

  • $\begingroup$ Can you please tell what does FBS and DMSO mean? I'm completely blank. $\endgroup$ – Wrichik Basu Aug 31 '17 at 6:33
  • $\begingroup$ @WrichikBasu: Probably fetal bovine serum and dimethyl sulphoxide $\endgroup$ – John Rennie Aug 31 '17 at 7:06
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    $\begingroup$ Might Chemistry be better suited for this question? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos Aug 31 '17 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ FBS=Fetal Bovine Serum (basically just a bunch of inert proteins from baby cow blood) DMSO = dimethyl sulfoxide. Chemistry doesn't help much with the electromagnetic induction/ static attraction, nor the thermodynamics of how such a condensation pattern emerges as a polymer-like structure $\endgroup$ – user36181 Aug 31 '17 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ This looks just about suitable for this site, but I wouldn't hold my breath for answers here. user36181 can ask in Chemistry if they don't get an answer here (modulo the usual rules for cross-posting). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Sep 1 '17 at 9:36

The polystyrene container and your comments about the hairs moving suggest that they might be caused by static electricity.

This video shows ice crystals which formed on a plastic tube rack in a bucket of dry ice. They are attracted to a finger by static electricity, just as you described.

Water is made of polar molecules which can be aligned by an electric field. Water molecules in the air are attracted to the charged ends of the filaments of ice. The ends remains charged as the filaments grow. Separate filaments are kept apart from each other by the static charge, just like the hair of someone touching a Van de Graaff generator.


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