Are Snowflakes Truly Unique, Like You?

Jan 19, 2016
Originally published on January 19, 2016 6:17 pm

So, it finally snowed for real here in Rochester last night.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: Upstate New York equals lots of snow. Well, not for us this weird winter. (Buffalo, of course, has gotten its share.)

I stood outside for a while under a streetlight watching the giant lake effect snow blobs fall — and I got to thinking about the physics of snowflakes.

Now, there is a whole lot to the problem of how snowflakes form and if every one of them is really, truly unique (just like you). After poking around in some physics sites and journal articles, I found this great five-minute explainer from It's OK to Be Smart/PBS. It's a great intro to snow science.

Gotta warn you, though, it doesn't take kindly to the "you're a unique snowflake" metaphor.

For a bit more visual approach to the whole snowflake phenomenon, check out these awesome videos of crystal pattern formation in slow motion.

Adam Frank is a co-founder of the 13.7 blog, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, a book author and a self-described "evangelist of science." You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4

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