Snowflakes are the most unique and beautiful creations of nature. They are fascinating to look at and even more interesting to study under a microscope. There are several ways to observe snowflakes, but the most popular is by using a stereomicroscope. In order to clearly see under a microscope and to photograph snowflakes, you will need to use at least 10x magnification. However, if you want to see the intricate details of a snowflake, you will need to use a higher magnification such as 20x or 30x.
Snowflakes are made up of ice and water, and they can be of different colors depending on the environment in which they formed. Under a microscope, snowflakes typically appear white or light blue. However, if they formed in a polluted area, they may have a yellow or brown tint.
Every snowflake is unique and no two are exactly alike. The intricate patterns on a snowflake are the result of its six-sided symmetry. Snowflakes can be classified into two categories: stellar and simple. Let us learn more about these fascinating creations and see how they look under the microscope.
Since before Christ, several notable people have studied and recorded the structure and other elements of snowflakes. In 135 BC, a Chinese Scholar named Han Yin stated that while comparing the flowers of various plants and trees to snowflakes, their form persisted in displaying a six-pointed symmetry.
According to a significant number of researchers, this was well understood in China at the time. However, it was not until many centuries later that different elements of snowflakes would be recorded in Europe.
In 1555, a Scandinavian bishop, Olaus Magnus (Olaf Mansson) described them as having a distinctive form of shapes ranging from crescent to that of a human hand. In 1591, Thomas Harriot, an English astronomer, and mathematician wrote a more thorough description in which he classified snowflakes as having six-fold symmetry.
In 1611, a German scientist named Johannes Kepler was more concerned with the general structure of snowflakes, which led him to propose that the hexagonal pattern of stacked cannonballs might help explain the symmetry of snowflakes. However, he was unable to do so owing to scientific ignorance at the time.
Between the mid-1630s and late 1640s, French philosopher Rene Descartes (also without a microscope) studied snowflakes more closely, producing amazing findings. In comparison to previous researchers, Descartes documented some of the unusual kinds of snowflakes such as capped columns.
Following Descartes’ observations of snowflakes, who had also read Kepler’s work, he published his findings in an autobiographical essay entitled Discourse on the Method.
Thomas Bartholin (1660) is credited as the first microscopist to examine the structure of snowflakes under a microscope, using low-power microscopic techniques and producing neat pictures of their structure.
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke are among the pioneers who studied snowflakes under a microscope. Furthermore, he was able to utilize Descartes and Kepler’s research on atomic packing to explain how these forms came into existence.
Microscopy aided in the study of snowflakes’ distinct forms and even distinguished them into numerous categories. In 1681, Donato Rossetti, an Italian philosopher, and mathematician divided snowflakes into many categories based on their distinct morphological appearance. William Scoresby disseminated his images in 1820 to try to accomplish the same thing.
Wilson A. Bentley (also known as the snowflake man or Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley in some publications) was able to take an excellent photo of a single snowflake with his bellows camera in 1885, and he took many more pictures over the next several years.
Snowflakes are delicate and may be destroyed at certain temperatures, making it tough to study them. As a result, they must be kept below 32 °F to avoid melting. A variety of methods can be used to examine the general form/structure of a snowflake.
Using Magnifying Glass
Before observing a snowflake under the microscope, you may first inspect its shape or structure using a magnifying glass. You may record the observation and compare it later on.
- A magnifying glass
- Black paper or card (black construction paper or card stock)
Collect snowflake specimens by holding up your black paper to catch snow when it starts snowing outside.
Use your magnifying glass to look at several snowflakes and make a note of what you see.
Cover your nose as you hold the magnifying glass close to your eye. Breathing over the snowflake may cause it to melt.
Observation Using the Magnifying Glass
Under the lens, you may notice various patterns among different snowflakes. Although the form of one snowflake differs from another, they all have a symmetrical form.
Preserving a Snowflake for Observation
A snowflake may melt at temperatures above 32°F. As a result, you may wish to save the imprint of a snowflake for future study. These can then be observed using a magnifying glass or a microscope. The following are some of the techniques for preserving snowflakes.
Using Hair Spray or Acrylic
The first technique is the use of Hair Spray or acrylic. You will need the following tools:
- Glass slides
- A box
- Hair spray
The procedures for preserving snow using a hairspray are the following:
- Spray hairspray or acrylic on a clean glass slide
- To collect the snowflakes that are cascading down, hold up the sticky surface of the glass slide.
- After a few snowflakes are caught on the slide, place them in a box (in a cold location) for several hours to allow the spray to dry as the water in the snowflake evaporates.
- With a magnifying glass and a microscope, look at the slide as well. Keep track of what you see.
Aside from hair spray, you may use a weak solution of polyvinyl plastic to make a snowflake last.
For this experiment, start by chilling the solution to around 2°F below freezing. Paint a thin layer of the solution onto a clean glass slide and then chill/freeze it after it’s cooled.
When it begins to snow, set the slide outside (with the painted surface facing up) and let it capture a few falling snowflakes.
Allow the slide to sit in a cold location for approximately 10 minutes to allow the solvent to evaporate. The slide can then be warmed to melt the snowflake and allow moisture to evaporate (which may be done at room temperature).
Using non-gel Superglue
If you follow the methods outlined above, you will be able to preserve a perfect impression of a snowflake. However, non-gel superglue may also preserve an actual snowflake. You can use this method to keep a snowflake for a long time. Here are the things you will need for this procedure:
- For example, a traditional (non-gel) superglue, such as pure cyanoacrylate
- Microscope slides made of glass
- Tweezers and a pair of scissors
Chill the microscope glass slide, coverslip, superglue, and tweezers down to 20°F first. Place them outside when it begins snowing and the temperature is about 20°F or lower, or simply put them in the freezer—this is a crucial stage that ensures these supplies stay cold and prevents them from warming up and melting the snowflakes.
You may succeed at catching falling snowflakes with black/dark paper or cardboard, or simply lay out the glass slide when it’s snowing. Collecting snowflakes on dark paper, however, allows you to choose which one you want to keep.
If you’ve already put your snowflakes on the slide, now is the time to glue them down. If, however, you collected the snowflakes with black paper, place the snowflake gently with a paintbrush or cold tweezers onto the slide (During this stage, make sure not to breathe on the snowflakes to keep them as fresh as possible.)
If you’ve prepared several glass slides, place a single snowflake (carefully to avoid breaking the snowflake’s form) in the middle of each one.
Once the snowflakes are in place on the slides, carefully add a tiny drop of superglue to each snowflake so that it covers the snowflake with glue – This should be done as soon as possible to avoid warming up the glue, which might have an impact on the results.
Cover the snowflake with a coverslip. To minimize trapping air bubbles, place the coverslip at an angle – Alternatively, you may try using cold tweezers to avoid heating the glass coverslip. Repeat this procedure with several snowflakes to prepare several slides.
Finally, place the slide(s) horizontally in the freezer for about two weeks (for around two weeks). The glue will solidify properly if allowed to mature.
Observing Snowflake Under Microscope
When you’re ready to look at the snowflakes, take one or two of your prepared specimens and place them on the microscope stage. This will provide you with a more three-dimensional perspective with a stereomicroscope.
If using a regular microscope, use the 10x objective lens to start. You can then change to a higher power if desired.
Using Stereo Microscopy
The snowflakes may be observed more clearly with a stereomicroscope. A digital microscope camera can also be used for photographing snowflakes. Here are the requirements that you will need for this procedure:
- Prepared microscope slide
For the procedure:
- Gently turn the rotating turret to secure the lowest power objective lens in place.
- Carefully lower the slide onto the stage and keep it in place with the clamps.
- Look through the eyepiece and adjust the focus knob until you have clear snowflake pictures.
- To view all parts of the snowflake structure, move the microscope slide around (by changing the stage)
- If you have a digital microscope, you can start photographing snowflakes as you observe them.
- Make a record of everything you observe.
When viewed under a stereomicroscope, the complex designs of each snowflake may be seen. You will notice several variations between these patterns if you compare different frames (if you prepared many slides).
Despite the variations, all of the snowflakes have six sides, making for a hexagonal structure. This is due to how molecules combine to form a snowflake.
How are snowflakes formed?
The structure of a snowflake under a microscope is seen to have developed through two distinct phases/phases: the first phase involves the formation of a six-sided snow crystals structure (facet) while the second phase entails the growth of the facet’s branches on its surface.
When cold water molecules come into touch with a dust particle or pollen, they form a snowflake. The formation of a snowflake begins when a dust particle/pollen combines with the cold water to create the crystallization nucleus, which serves as the basis for the snowflake. This is known as the initial stage in snowflake formation, during which the ice crystal grows straightforwardly.
The second stage of snowflake growth is more intricate, and it is during this stage that the arms that give a snowflake its unique design start to form. The temperature at which water freezes also plays a role in the design of the snowflake.
Classification of Snowflakes
Snowflakes are unique from one another (due to varying atmospheric conditions and the chance of water molecules being randomly added to the snow crystals), but scientists have attempted to categorize them into many groups.
Snowflakes are categorized according to the 1951 system as follows:
- Plates – are six-sided flakes
- Stellars – have six-pointed flakes
- Columns – has rectangular crystals
- Capped columns – are columns with a bar on either end
- Needles – have splinter-like crystals
- Irregular crystals – do not have a regular shape because crystals are clumped together irregularly.
What color are snowflakes under a microscope?
The color of a snowflake may depend on the light conditions in which it was formed, but most are white or slightly off-white. This is because the ice that makes up a snowflake scatters light equally in all directions. Also, it is difficult to say what color snowflakes are under a microscope because they will appear different depending on the magnification level used.
Is every snowflake different?
Yes, every snowflake is unique and no two snowflakes will be the same because of the many atmospheric conditions and the chance of water molecules being randomly added to the crystal.
What magnification is needed to see snowflakes?
10x is generally the lowest power objective lens used to view snowflakes under a microscope. However, depending on the size of the snowflake, it may be necessary to use a higher power objective lens.
What is snowflake theory?
Snowflake theory is the scientific theory that seeks to explain the formation of snowflakes. It is based on the idea that each snowflake is unique because of the many possible combinations of atmospheric and environmental conditions.
Do you need a microscope to see snowflakes?
No, you do not need a microscope to see snowflakes. However, using a microscope will allow you to view snowflakes in detail and observe their unique structures.
Observing a snowflake under the microscope is one of the most interesting experiences students can do. These crystals of ice are formed together and form larger crystal puff balls. Snowflakes have unique structures and characteristics that mystified notable figures for centuries. The use of a microscope made it possible to look into the distinct shapes of snowflakes and create classifications for them.