Thursday, January 12, 2017

Snowflake Bentley's Snowflakes Re-visited

Environmental and Science Education
Art and Environment
by Edward Hessler

Of all the forms of water the tiny six-pointed crystals of ice called snow are incomparably the most beautiful and varied. —Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley

[Wikimedia Commons]

Noticing snowflakes on my mittens and coat sleeves these past few days made me think about the assumed perfection of snowflakes. Are they? Aren't they?

Most of the ones I found as I walked through wonderful swirls of snow—the kind of snow that make you stick out your tongue to taste one or two—were not at all symmetrical or could I even fit them into any of the various "basic" shape classifications.

As you know, Wilson Bentley (February 9 1865 to December 23 1931) aka Snowflake Bentley was one of the first to photograph snowflakes. The images have been a source of joy, delight and wonder since their publication.  The photographs of individual snowflakes are wonderfully symmetrical. Perfect as the heavens were once imagined.

A National Science Foundation video demonstrates the use of a new technology that can capture images of free-falling snowflakes, an impressive achievement. This fascinating video interweaves the work of Bentley, a farmer, his fiercely critical European competitor, atmospheric scientist Gustav Halmann and two University of Utah scientists, engineer Cale Fallgatter and atmospheric scientist Tim Garrett who designed a new instrument for filming snowflakes in flight.

To round out this story I include several links.

The first is to a link to a short film about Bentley. His engineering achievement was remarkable no matter how one considers it.

The second is to photographer Alexey Kljatov's images which show snowflakes in all their glory and crystalline beauty.

CalTech physics professor Kenneth Libbrecht  studies the physics of ice crystals, particularly snowflakes. He has written several popular books on snowflakes. One of them is aimed at children, aged 6 to 12 (and wannabes) on the art and science of snowflakes. Another is The Little Book of Snowflakes. Good science and good art.

And finally Snowflake Bentley by Jacquelin Briggs Martin with illustrations by Mary Azarian.  If snowflakes aren't perfect Mary Azarian's art is as are the words of Ms. Martin.

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