Stunning ‘designer’ snowflakes grown in a lab
Professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, Ken Libbrecht, is trying to figure out the reason behind the famous fact that no two snowflakes are alike. Libbrecht is pursuing his answer by measuring the development of snowflakes under controlled conditions, producing these “designer” beauties for us to gaze upon.
Snowflakes are made when water vapor in the air converts directly into ice without becoming liquid first. As each snowflake grows and develops its ornate pattern emerges.
The snowflake begins as a hexagonal plate and branches out and grows larger as it passes through the clouds, affected by changing temperatures and humidities. The shape of the snowflake is determined by the path it took through the cloud, with all six arms of the hexagonal path being identical. However, no two snowflakes follow the same path, and so eventually none look alike.
Exactly why they grow the way they do is still a mystery, something Libbrecht is determined to solve. He creates “designer snowflakes” in his lab, attempting to change the shape by modifying the conditions under which they grow.
“I like to think of this as a new form of ice sculpture, except I am not carving away from an initial block of ice, but rather growing a desired structure by adding water vapor.” Libbrecht said.