Kurt Vonnegut's Ice-Nine; and Friday the 13th Revisited
April 13, 2007 -- Kurt Vonnegut's Ice-Nine
Writer Kurt Vonnegut died April 11th. One of his most famous literary creations was not a character but a chemical. Ice-Nine is a form of ice that somehow turns any liquid water it touches into more Ice-Nine. And so, at the end of Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, the world ends, not with a bang but with a brrrr. Vonneget clearly had a strong interest in science—he was briefly a chemistry major at Cornell. And according to an article that wikipedia cites from the Journal of Chemical Education, the genesis for the idea for Ice-Nine actually dates back to Irving Langmuir, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1932. The story goes that Langmuir was showing science fiction pioneer HG Wells around General Electric, where Langmuir worked for over 40 years. Langmuir allegedly mused about a form of water solid at room temperature, thinking that Wells might use the idea, which he didn’t. But Vonnegut wound up working at GE’s PR department, found the story, and filed the nascent Ice-Nine idea away for his own future use. Lots more interesting material about interesting materials in the wikipedia entry for Ice-Nine.