Everyone knows that no two snowflakes are identical to one another. That's because they all start out as a simple hexagonal prism - the most basic form of snow crystal - but then encounter a range of atmospheric conditions as they journey down to Earth.
It was two Japanese physicists who made early strides in our understanding of snowflake formation. Ukichiro Nakaya at the University of Hokkaido in the 1930s and Takehiko Gonda in the 1970s at the Science University of Tokyo found that humidity, temperature, air pressure and other conditions are the variables that determine the shape of a snowflake.
Kenneth Libbrecht writes, “Although no two crystals end up exactly alike, the six arms of a single crystal all travel together, so they all grow in synchrony, giving each falling crystal a unique and intricate structure with a recognisable symmetry.”
The conditions in the atmosphere dictate how water molecules are transported to the crystal but, because of the infinitesimal range of conditions, that makes it hard to simulate snowflake growth and explain how particular structures are formed.
Numerical modelling is now being used to reproduce the complex structures. The work is of particular interest to metallurgists as a better understanding of snowflake structures could profoundly affect the strength and ductility of their own final materials on a micro- or even nano-scale.
Libbrecht continues, “Beyond the intrinsic scientific questions, beyond the practical applications of crystal growth, and beyond the meteorological significance of atmospheric ice, we who ponder snowflakes are motivated by a simple and essential desire to comprehend the natural world around us.”
Also in this issue:•Funding bombshell hits UK physics
Dianne Stilwell | alfa
A two-atom quantum duet
12.11.2018 | Institute for Basic Science
Improving understanding of how the Solar System is formed
12.11.2018 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly
The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...
Scientists developed specially coated nanometer-sized vehicles that can be actively moved through dense tissue like the vitreous of the eye. So far, the transport of nano-vehicles has only been demonstrated in model systems or biological fluids, but not in real tissue. The work was published in the journal Science Advances and constitutes one step further towards nanorobots becoming minimally-invasive tools for precisely delivering medicine to where it is needed.
Researchers of the “Micro, Nano and Molecular Systems” Lab at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart, together with an international...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
12.11.2018 | Life Sciences
12.11.2018 | Materials Sciences
12.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy