Engineering theory is no longer taught in schools, but is a speciality of knowledge and design capability that must be learned over time and through repeated engineering design failure. A wise fellow named Murphy was the last known 'professional' engineering theorist, and his postulates are known round the world.
The "Weird Ice" problem raised (DN 5/1/00) presents a classic example where Murphy's laws apply. Something is occurring in the freezer, or refrigerator, and the owner does not know what's happening, but it happens when you'd least expect it! This particular problem would have remained unsolved had it not been for a chance article in last week's newspaper.
I read where people who regularly drink bottled water and/or well water are getting significantly more cavities than people who drink "city" water. The reasoning is that the fluoride in city water has a positive effect in reducing tooth cavities.
You may ask, "What does this have to do with the formation of ice cube stalagmites?"—a demonstration of your understanding of classical real world engineering. From the perspective of the untrained engineering theorist, there is clearly no linkage between city water and ice stalagmites. Testing would even support that claim, that city water and fluorination have no effect on the formation or generation of stalagmite characteristics in ice cubes. BUT this is just the result of "non-theoretical engineering" investigation and analysis of an apparent random event.
The engineering theorist would approach this problem from the perspective of pure theory with no regard for physical law.
Here is the series of questions that any experienced engineering theorist would use to arrive at the weird ice answer:
Does the light go off when you close the door?
What if the light stays on?
How would the light affect water trying to freeze in an ice cube tray?
If the light burned out while the water was freezing, would it have an effect?
How much fluoride is in your tap water?
Is the fluoride distributed evenly throughout the water as it freezes?
Is normal tap water ionized or de-ionized?
If the water is not de-ionized, how much ionization is present in the water?
Is the water ionization distributed evenly throughout the ice cube tray?
What would happen if you froze bottled water? How about de-ionized water?
If the freezer door has an outside ice cube and water dispenser, how does the air pressure inside the freezer change when ice and water are dispensed?
Is there a relationship between fluctuating air pressure and water freezing?
This type of engineering theory application, when used on the weird ice dilemma, enables the theorist to generate a series of postulates. Testing would be required to prove specifically which of the previous set of events has lead to the documented stalagmite formulation, but that goes beyond the role of the engineering theorist, for then it wouldn't still be theory!
While each of the questions above remains unanswered, each could represent a solution to the weird ice phenomenon. The following three conditions are generally understood, however, to offer the highest probability of contributing to the noted ice-spire effect.
Random quantity and concentration of fluoride in one of the ice cube trays reacts to a random event whereby the refrigerator/freezer light stays on after the door is closed. This is impossible to prove due to the randomness of fluoride concentration and the inability to confirm whether the light in fact goes out.
Tap water ionization becomes concentrated in the ice cube tray and becomes energized as the light, which has failed to go out when the door was closed, suddenly burns out. The energized water generates turbulence within the constraints of the ice cube tray and a water spout results. The sudden increase in water surface area results in the spout freezing. Again, it is not possible to demonstrate this through testing.
It is entirely possible that this stalagmite condition is the result of the writer's wife placing a tray of heated water into the freezer, leading to rapid thermal shift within the water as the exposed surfaces become rapidly cooled. This thermal shift could be strong enough to create a "water burst" resulting in geyser-like spires of ice. Once the thermal burst occurs, the water instantly freezes as all of the resident (thermal) energy has been expended. The water spout freezes instantly as its surface area is totally exposed to the freezing air. Given the randomness of the thermal gradients within the ice cube tray, and the infrequency of people placing heated water into their freezers, this weird ice phenomenon has not manifested itself frequently enough to warrant further investigation.