Snowflakes

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My journey to the world of snowflakes started about 15 years ago and began with my love for microscopes. Upon showing images from the microscope to friends they had little interest in all the wonderful biology, but were fascinated by the images of snowflakes. There had been little done in this field since Bentley fist took snowflake images from his barn in the hills of Vermont approximately 100 years ago.

I live and work in one of the snowiest cities in the United States. Rochester N.Y. is situated between Buffalo and Syracuse and it is often a coin toss which city gets the most snow. Unfortunately, our snow is not the kind of snow that graces the covers of Christmas cards, but is a crystalline mess called lake effect snow. This type of snow is created when very cold air travels across the warm waters of the great lakes and picks up moisture. The moisture is then dumped as snow over the land. This type of snow is very quickly growing, so large nice crystals just do not have time to form. We are lucky if we get three snowfalls a season that contain large fern like crystals. On average, Rochester gets about 92 inches of snow a year.

In the world of the study of snow an individual single crystal is called a snow crystal, when groups of crystals are called snowflakes.

The technique for photographing a single snow crystal is a bit difficult. I keep a snow shed in my backyard that keeps the microscopes and different light sources out of the weather but still cold. I only photograph when the temperature is below 25F. Above 25 F, the heat radiated by your body can melt the crystal. I keep a sheet of black cardboard inside my front door to check the falling snow for good crystal development. I can tell the snow type by looking at the terminal velocity and the reflections of lights on the crystals. If snow falling on the black cardboard tells me conditions are good, I put on all my winter jackets and boots and take the digital camera to the snow shed. The individual crystals fall on a sheet of black paper and good crystals are picked up with a pin and transfered to a microscope slide. This might seem like an impossible task, but with practice, I can go through a dozen crystals in a few minutes. I have to work fast. The snow crystal will often evaporate and change size and structure while it is under the microscope.

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A relatively rare fern-like stellar dendrite snow crystal photographed in Rochester NY.

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A true snowflake is a group of snow crystals. Groups like this are very common here in upstate New York.

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One example of snow needles. One possible type of lake effect snow.

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Many times there are "freak snow crystals" - here is one. Not exactly symmetrical.

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Close-up of the center of a nice stellar dendrite snow crystal.

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This post was written by photographer Ted Kinsman for Photo Synthesis.

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By ctenotrish (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

I too love snow crystal photography. With a lengthy career studying and forecasting lake effect snow and winter weather in general, I have always enjoyed what Mother Nature has to offer at us each year. I live in what some people consider one of the the snowiest places in the world, just outside Buffalo, NY. I am not a photographer and only have access use very inexpensive equipment. However, I believe my patience and perseverence have resulted in some success over the past couple of years with my snow crystal photographs. If interested, go to http://www.buffaloflakes.com

Hey Erin, Quick question. What is the advantage of using a microscope as to using a camera
with bellows and reversed lens?

By Todd Slingerland (not verified) on 06 Feb 2010 #permalink

Thanks for this explanation of how to photograph snow crystals and snowflakes. I was searching for this very thing. My 12 year old son has a microscope and wanted to see if he could freeze tap water into a crystalline shape like Emoto. It didn't work. Next time it snows, we'll try your technique.

his explanation of how to photograph snow crystals and snowflakes. I was searching for this very thing. My 12 year old son has a microscope and wanted to see if he could freeze tap

his explanation of how to photograph snow crystals and snowflakes. I was searching for this very thing. My 12 year old son has a microscope and wanted to see if he could freeze tap

thanks...

Thanks for this explanation of how to photograph snow crystals and snowflakes. I was searching for this very thing. My 12 year old son has a microscope and wanted to see if he could freeze tap water into a crystalline shape like Emoto. It didn't work. Next time it snows, we'll try your technique.www.megadosya.com

Evolving from a cloud is a tiny particle of ice. As the tiny particle of ice condenses, the snow crystal facets, or grows into a somewhat hexagonal prism. As the crystal grows, the corners sprout arms. Once the crystal moves into different temperature, plates begin to form on the arms. When the crystal starts moving through many different temperatures, each temperature change causes new "growth behavior" on the arms, giving the snow crystal its shape. The shape of a snow crystal depends solely on two factors, temperature and time. Because the snow crystal travels through the same temperatures at the same time, all growths on the crystal are somewhat alike and/or symmetrical.

By Kelly Hatt (not verified) on 11 Oct 2010 #permalink

I've always been fasinated with snowflakes. Do they have stages of forming? How do they get their distinct shape?

I mean, really?? I'm a scientist, and just reading that even made *my* eyes glaze over. If one thing they're trying to convey is the importance and relevance of the scientist's research to GQ readers, what percentage of the readers are really going to walk away with a deeper understanding of what Dr. Jamieson does by reading that description? It would have been a small thing to ask each participant to submit a layman-friendly version of their research (their "elevator talk" description, for example) for GQ to include.

Finally--one of the "scientists" is Dr. Oz. What is he doing in there? One, I would think he's already well-known enough; why not save that spot for another scientist? Two, yes, I know he's actually done research and published, and is on the faculty at Columbia. Fantastic. He's also a serious woo peddler, who has even featured everyone's favorite "alternative" doc, Joseph Mercola, on his talk show, and discussed how vaccines may be playing a role in autism and allergies (despite mounds of evidence to the contrary). This seems to completely contradict their goal of "research funding as a national priority," since Oz is often (and Mercola is always) highly critical of "mainstream medicine." I really don't understand his inclusion, and think it's to the detriment of the rest of the campaign.

Finally--one of the "scientists" is Dr. Oz. What is he doing in there? One, I would think he's already well-known enough; why not save that spot for another scientist? Two, yes, I know he's actually done research and published, and is on the faculty at Columbia. Fantastic.

ho wow thank you What is he doing in there? One, I would think he's already well-known enough; why not save that spot for another scientist? Two, yes, I know he's actually done research and published, and is on the faculty at Columbia. Fantastic.

Erin,

These are awesome. This is more like art than science. Its individual efforts like this that create interest in science. Please keep up the good work.

John

He's also a serious woo peddler, who has even featured everyone's favorite "alternative" doc, Joseph Mercola, on his talk show, and discussed how vaccines may be playing a role in autism and allergies (despite mounds of evidence to the contrary).