Biomimetics and Biomimicry in Engineering

“No two snowflakes are the same”

In Comment on 2010/12/06 at 2:34 pm

One of the people I most admire for the colourful of his personality and elegance and beauty of his work, is Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931). This gentleman studies the formation of snowflakes under varied conditions of temperature, pressure and relative humidity.

With rather low-tech scientific apparatus (i.e. a simple microscope and rudimentary equipment to control temperature, pressure and % humidity), he created hundreds, if not thousands, of snow crystals. He coined the sentence “no two snowflakes are the same”.

It is snowing heavily in Edinburgh city centre as I write this. It is not that all the different snowflakes that I can see falling from the sky are all absolutely unique and different. His claim mean that, under specific atmospheric and physical conditions (i.e. T, P, %hum, altitude, etc), one and only one type of snow crystal will form, and then fall onto the ground.

These image that I am posting are original photographs taken by Bentley himself from his microscope. The crispness of the images is breathtaking and the beauty of the fractals extraordinary. Enjoy!

For example, when snowflakes crystallises with the shape of a tube or a needle, fall to the ground and form a layer of snow on a mountain, that layer may be the precursor in the formation of avalanches.

Bentley’s pioneer work has helped geophysicists and engineers understand ice formations and how to prevent catastrophes. However, there are many questions still unsolved! Snowflakes grow as thin plates, but if the temperature varies only a few degrees, they evolve into long thin crystals. No one knows why.

This last image belongs to a collection from SnowCrystals.com and a beautiful classification of the different types of snowflakes can be seen here.

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  1. Hi Carmen,
    These are beautiful images, and I love the thought that next time it snows it will now remind me of a little corner of life saving science & engineering.
    Thank-you for a new bit of knowledge,
    Chloe

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