The Kid Should See This

The scientist that grows ‘identical twin snowflakes’

Snow crystals form when humid air is cooled to the point that molecules of water vapor start sticking to each other. In the clouds, crystals usually start forming around a tiny microscopic dust particle, but if the water vapor gets cooled quickly enough the crystals can form spontaneously out of water molecules alone. Over time, more water molecules stick to the crystal until it gets heavy enough to fall…

When they fall and grow in nature, they experience a variety of humidity and temperature conditions along their paths, creating their famously unique shapes. But when they grow in a lab under controlled conditions? Identical twin snowflakes.

In this episode of Deep Look, we peek inside the CalTech lab of professor, physicist, and snowflake expert Ken Libbrecht. He’s made a chamber that mimics cloud conditions so that he can grow, catch, and study their hexagonal shapes. From KQED:

Each water molecule is each made out of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms. As vapor, the water molecules bounce around slamming into each other. As the vapor cools, the hydrogen atom of one molecule forms a bond with the oxygen of another water molecule. This is called a hydrogen bond. These bonds make the water molecules stick together in the shape of a hexagonal ring. As the crystal grows, more molecules join fitting within that same repeating pattern called a crystal array. The crystal keeps the hexagonal symmetry as it grows.

Read more about Snowflake science and snow crystal morphology at Libbrecht’s site.

Plus: More Deep Look and more ice crystals! Make your own in a bottle, go on a snowflake safari, or see them form in time lapse through a microscope.

This feature is being tested. Saves will disappear if you clear cookies. Find saved videos here.

🌈 Related videos

Antarctica’s Ice Formations: Volcanic ice caves & undersea brinicles

Rion Nakaya

Satellite Tracks Saharan Dust to Amazon in 3-D – NASA

Rion Nakaya

How do trees survive winter? – MinuteEarth

Rion Nakaya

The 3-million-year old Ningwu ice cave never thaws

Rion Nakaya

Pardon My Dust – Dynamic Sketching with Peter Han

Rion Nakaya

Why do ice cubes crack in drinks?

Rion Nakaya

Drifting With the Ice: Life on an Arctic Expedition

Rion Nakaya

Arctic Cowboys: Hitch a Ride with Reindeer Herders in Finland

Rion Nakaya

Building a traditional Swedish snölykta (snow lantern)

Rion Nakaya

 
Browse the TKSST Video Collections

Get 7 smart videos delivered every week.

 

Subscribe