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Ice Science: Grow Your Own Ice Spikes!

Brrrr! As the weather is turning colder, I start to think about the science of ice and snow. Ice comes in many forms out in nature, from icicles to frost, even ice ribbons and flowers. One structure that is not found very often in nature is called an ice spike.

As you can imagine, an ice spike is just that, a spiky column of ice. You can grow your own ice spikes, and challenge students or children to figure out how they formed, easily and quickly using your own freezer. Read on for the directions to get started with this ice science investigation and to find some other great links to ice and snow activities.

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How does Ice Form? 

You may think that ice is simply frozen water, but did you know that it is actually a type of crystal? Regular ice has a crystalline structure of repeating hexagons or cubes.Various conditions can give ice irregular crystalline shapes too. Ice crystals form around tiny particles or impurities. The ice structure grows from these first crystals.

Materials Needed to Grow Ice Spikes 

To grow ice spikes you need only a few materials. Most kids are probably familiar with how ice cubes form, but you may want to make some with regular tap water before you start this experiment to use as an example.



Grow an Ice Spike

In order to grow ice spikes, all you have to do is fill the ice cube tray with the distilled water and place it in the freezer. The cubes will freeze fairly quickly, so you'll want to check on them every half hour or so. If you want regular ice cubes to compare these to, fill a second ice cube tray with tap water and let them freeze as well.

We got so excited about taking photos of the first ice spike that we took it out of the freezer and it began to quickly melt. See below! They can be fragile!

You also may not grow spikes each time. We found that filling the ice cube tray up to the top was helpful.

Why Does the Ice Spike Grow? 

Before revealing why the ice grew these crazy structures, ask your students or children why they think this happened. You can also tell them it doesn't happen very often in nature. Why do they think this is? After a brainstorm, reveal the science.

Distilled, or pure water, freezes differently than water with impurities. It freezes quickly because it supercools. In other words, the distilled water freezes at a lower temperature than regular tap water. It can remain liquid water longer, but once it begins to freeze, it freezes rapidly.

The sides of the ice cube tray may seem smooth, but small scratches or bumps in the plastic can serve as the spot where the first ice crystals form. The ice cube freezes around the outside first, leaving liquid in the center. As the ice closes in on the liquid water a few of the ice crystals (which are less dense than the liquid water) float to the top and are pushed out of the hole, forming a spike. The spike continues to grow until the entire thing is frozen.

Regular tap water has impurities and freezes at a normal freezing point for water. It does so more slowly, and the crystals form more evenly and uniformly. This doesn't result in the center staying liquid the longest, so there is no hole for a spike to form in. Water free of impurities is rare in nature, and that is why you might not see ice spikes when you are out on a winter hike.

Winter Science Activities

Winter is a great time for science! There is a ton to learn about seasons, ice, snow and winter wildlife. Explore these links for tons of activities to keep the kids busy. 

STEAM Saturday: Ice and Snow Science Activities

Learning about Friction while Playing in the Snow :: From Engineer to Stay at Home Mom


  1. This sounds fun! Would be cool to make ice sculptures with these!

    1. That is a great idea. Once they are completely frozen, they are fairly strong. The longer you leave them in the freezer, the smaller they will get over time, like any ice cube. Thanks for reading!