Amusing Monday: Snowflakes frozen in a world of their own

They say every snowflake is different. That may be hard to believe until you realize that snowflakes are really quite large on the molecular scale and that snowflakes come in various shapes and sizes, created under an enormous number of varying conditions.

In fact, most snowflakes are so different from one another that the effort to categorize their shapes has never been completely successful. In 2013, one research group came out with a new classification of 121 different types of snow crystals, ice crystals and solid precipitation. Check out the paper in Atmospheric Research.

But what really got me started on this topic was the beauty of snowflakes and wondering how they form. I offered a view of some stunning still photos in Water Ways in 2014. This time, I thought we could take a look at snowflake formation.

I really like the first video on this page, complete with music. I didn’t realize until later that the video does not show snowflake formation at all. Rather it shows the sublimation of snowflakes (their disappearance) played in reverse.

To see the actual formation of snowflakes, we can look to the work of a researcher, author and consultant on the Disney film “Frozen” Ken Libbrecht. Author of “Field Guide to Snowflakes,” Libbrecht films the formation of snowflakes under carefully controlled conditions in his laboratory. He offers a webpage called “Guide to Snowflakes,” which includes a link to his books.

The second video is a demonstration of this intricate work by Libbrecht, a professor of physics and department chairman at the California Institute of Technology. For more amazing videos, check out his webpage “Growing snowflakes.” If you’d like to see how he does it, check out the page “Designer snowflakes,” which includes a diagram of the lab setup.

In all, Libbrecht has created about 30 fascinating web pages. All can be reached from his home page

The web network Great Big Story featured Libbrecht in a video titled “A scientist as unique as a snowflake” (third video on this page).

Libbrecht has never made two snowflakes exactly alike, but under controlled conditions he finds that sometimes they come out very, very close. Check out his webpage, “Identical-twin snowflakes,” which features videos of snowflakes growing side-by-side.

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