Nov. 23, 2010

The Story of a Snowflake

by Leslie Taylor


Credit: Kenneth Libbrecht (SnowCrystals.com) Via 2010 Lennart Nilsson award

Kenneth Libbrecht, professor of physics at Caltech, grows synthetic snowflakes to investigate the physics of crystal growth. His photographs of snowflakes won this year's Lennart Nilsson Award, which is presented annually for outstanding scientific and medical photography.

On his Web site, Libbrecht has a Snow Crystal Primer that explains how snowflakes are born:

The story of a snowflake begins with water vapor in the air. Evaporation from oceans, lakes, and rivers puts water vapor into the air, as does transpiration from plants. Even you, every time you exhale, put water vapor into the air.

When you take a parcel of air and cool it down, at some point the water vapor it holds will begin to condense out. When this happens near the ground, the water may condense as dew on the grass. High above the ground, water vapor condenses onto dust particles in the air. It condenses into countless minute droplets, where each droplet contains at least one dust particle. A cloud is nothing more than a huge collection of these water droplets suspended in the air.

In the winter, snow-forming clouds are still mostly made of liquid water droplets, even when the temperature is below freezing. The water is said to be supercooled, meaning simply that it is cooled below the freezing point. As the clouds gets colder, however, the droplets do start to freeze. This begins happening around -10 C (14 F), but it's a gradual process and the droplets don't all freeze at once.

If a particular droplet freezes, it becomes a small particle of ice surrounded by the remaining liquid water droplets in the cloud. The ice grows as water vapor condenses onto its surface, forming a snowflake in the process.

Hat tip to http://theartofscience.posterous.com/ -- a Web site by Science Communication graduate students at UC Santa Cruz.

About Leslie Taylor

Leslie is the online editor at Workboat.com and NationalFisherman.com. She has a background in oceanography and is passionate about getting non-scientists and young people to realize how cool science can be. She is also Science Friday's former web editor.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.
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Code:
line 1: package tmpevalpackage;
line 2: sub doEval { 
line 3: 	my($parent);
line 4: 	
line 5: 	if($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'SEGMENT.nickname'}) {
line 6: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'SEGMENT.nickname'};
line 7: 	}
line 8: 	elsif($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'VIDEO.nickname'}) {
line 9: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'VIDEO.nickname'};
line 10: 	}
line 11: 	elsif($LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'DOCUMENT.nickname'}) {
line 12: 		$parent = $LayoutManager::url_resolved_values{'DOCUMENT.nickname'}
line 13: 	}
line 14: 	
line 15: 	if($parent) {
line 16: 		my(@books) = &Database::SelectClause('BOOK',"parent = $parent");
line 17: 		if(!@books) {
line 18: 			$parent = '';
line 19: 		}
line 20: 	}
line 21: 	
line 22: 	if(!$parent) {
line 23: 		my(@sel) = &Database::SelectClause('GLOBAL','record all ""');
line 24: 		if(@sel) {
line 25: 			$parent = 'GLOBAL.' . $sel[0];
line 26: 		}
line 27: 			$main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "FEATURED READING";
line 28: 	}
line 29: 	
line 30: 	 = '';
line 31: 	
line 32: 	if($parent) {
line 33: 		my(@books) = &Database::SelectClause('BOOK',"parent = $parent");
line 34: 		0 = 0;
line 35: 		my $dots;
line 36: 		foreach(@books) {
line 37: 			my(%data);
line 38: 			&Database::GetRow($_,'BOOK',\%data);
line 39: 			my($status,$title,$author,$url,$image,$width,$height) = &SciFri::Schema::getAmazonItem($data{'isbn'});
line 40: 			if($data{'title'}) {
line 41: 				$title = $data{'title'};
line 42: 			}
line 43: 			if($data{'author'}) {
line 44: 				$author = $data{'author'};
line 45: 			}
line 46: 			if($status eq 'ok') {
line 47: 				 .= "<div class=\"box-2x1-item box-slide\" data-href=\"$url\">";
line 48: 				 .= "	<div class=\"box-2x1-item-photo\">";
line 49: 				 .= "		<div class=\"image-wrapper\" data-jsclass=\"imageWrapper\" data-align=\"right\">";
line 50: 				 .= "			<img src=\"$image\" data-width=\"$width\" data-height=\"$height\">";
line 51: 				 .= "		</div>";
line 52: 				 .= "	</div>";
line 53: 				 .= "	<h4>$title</h4>";
line 54: 				if($author) {
line 55: 					 .= "	<p>by $author</p>";
line 56: 				}
line 57: 				 .= "	<div class=\"box-2x1-more-button\"><a href=\"$url\"><img src=\"/images/v1/icon_text_more_white.png\" width=47 height=15 border=0></a></div>";
line 58: 				 .= "</div>";
line 59: 				++0;
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line 61: 		}
line 62: 	}
line 63: 	if($parent eq "GLOBAL.1") { $main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "FEATURED READING"; }
line 64: 	else { $main::ENV{'reading_header'} = "RELATED READING"; }
line 65:  };
line 66: &doEval();
line 67: 1;

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