“If a rain cloud encounters a stratum of air cold enough to freeze, then what would have been rain or mist comes down to us as sleet, hail, or snowflakes; and of all the forms of water crystals, that of snow in its perfection is the most beautiful; it is, indeed, the most beautiful of all crystals that we know. Why should water freezing freely in the air so demonstrate geometry by forming, as it does, a star with six rays, each set to another, at an angle of 60 degrees? And as if to prove geometry divine beyond cavil, sometimes the rays are only three in number a factor of six and include angles of twice 60 degrees. Moreover, the rays are decorated, making thousands of intricate and beautiful forms; but if one ray of the six is ornamented with additional crystals the other five are decorated likewise. Those snow crystals formed in the higher clouds and, therefore, in cooler regions may be more solid in form, the spaces in the angles being built out to the tips of the rays, and including air spaces set in symmetrical patterns; and some of the crystals may be columnar in form, the column being six-sided. Those snow crystals formed in the lower currents of air, and therefore in warmer regions, on the other hand, show their six rays marvelously ornamented. The reason why the snow crystals are so much more beautiful and perfect than the crystals of hoar frost or ice, is that they are formed from water vapor, and grow freely in the regions of the upper air. Mr. W. A. Bentley, who spent many years photographing the snow crystals, found nearly 5,000 distinct designs.” – Handbook Of Nature Study pages 809-810
Snow, the frozen crystal form of water, is amazing. It is beautiful to look at blanketing the ground, but even more stunning up close. Its six sided form is a lesson in molecular chemistry and geometry.
The six sides of a snow crystal are caused by water’s molecular structure. Its two hydrogen atoms flank its one oxygen atom at an angle that forms a “V’ shape. The hydrogen end of the water molecule is slightly negatively charged, while the oxygen end is slightly positively charged.
The polarity and shape of water molecules cause them to bond to each other in such a way that they form a specific pattern with six-sided symmetry. You can see this symmetry in each and every snowflake.
Other molecules have the same type of symmetry and can form crystals when they bond together. When you are learning about snow, sometimes it is interesting to study these other kinds of crystals.
Snowflake Study Ideas
Capture snowflakes. On a snowy day, take a black piece of construction paper outside and let it acclimate to the outside temperatures. When the paper is the same temperature as the outside air, hold the paper so that snowflakes can land on it.
Quickly, take a hand lens and observe what you’ve captured. Take note of its shape and its pattern.
Read about Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley. Check your library for books about Snowflake Bentley, a man who devoted a great deal of his life to photographing snowflakes and offering scientists the first detailed study of snowflake diversity and structure.
Create your own crystals. Dissolve 1/3 cup borax in 2 cups hot water. Pour water into a glass jar. You can add food coloring if you want something other than white crystals. Bend a pipe cleaner into whatever shape you want (as long as it will fit into your jar). Hang your pipe cleaner suspended by a popsicle stick over the mouth of the jar. Let the jar sit overnight. In the morning, carefully remove your pipe cleaner shape covered with crystals.
Make a paper snowflake. Go old-school and cut folded paper to create a snow flake. Experiment with your folds until you create a six-sided snowflake.
Create snowflake crafts. Get creative and see what kinds of snowflakes you can make with what you have around the house.
More Snowflake Study Resources HERE
Snowflake Science HERE
Snowflake Vocabulary Words
Stratum – one of many layers
Crystal – a solid substance with an organized grouping of atoms that create characteristic planes and angles
Cavil – objection
Symmetrical – having two halves that are the same
Columnar – being tall and in somewhat of a cylinder or prism in shape
This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Homeschooling Today Magazine. Subscribe today!