People can be nervous fliers to begin with. Even when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, there are few words that cause anxiety in some like, “Prepare for takeoff.” But add wintry conditions to the mix, add some ice, and the uneasy feeling can turn to fear.

How does ice cause a plane to crash?

Ice typically builds up when tiny cloud droplets impact and freeze on the leading edges, or front surfaces, of the plane. The ice alters airflow over the wing and tail, reducing the lift force that keeps the plane in the air, and potentially causing aerodynamic stall—a condition that can lead to a temporary loss of control. For scheduled air carriers (including commercial passenger airlines) icing has been a contributing factor in 9.5 percent of fatal air carrier accidents.

For now, the creation is simply called a “magnetic slippery surface” and is made of two components. The first is magnetic tape. “This tape can be put on any surface, whether polymer, metal, etc.” he says. The second component is ferrofluid, which he says is basically a mixture of fluid and magnetic nanoparticles, the latter being on the order of 5 to 10 nanometers in diameter. The ultimate idea was that this combination would make sure ice never encounters a solid to cling to.

How it works?

Looking at a water drop mixing with a solid, it showed a strong bond has adhesion strength on the order of 100,000 pascals. When ice builds up and has contact with a solid then it has a very solid bond and is very hard to detach. When cold weather sits on a fluid surface, this combination [of magnetic tape and ferrofluid] doesn’t allow the ice to see the solid and it just floats on the surface. Adhesion strength with this invention is 2 pascals. Hadi Ghasemi, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, who is working on this, says that this is under critical testing but its moving forward and has an optimistic future. One of his goals, he says, is for it to be used in spray form.