No two snowflakes are ever alike — or are they? Physicist Ken Libbrecht of California Institute of Technology in Pasadena has figured out how to control how these tiny ice structures form, and can shape them to be twins.
The age-old question of whether or not two snowflakes can be alike has been answered: Inn a snowstorm with varied conditions each snowflake is slightly different, but in a more controlled setting two can be formed under the same conditions and are therefore identical in structure. Libbrecht has figured out how to make slight adjustments to flakes that land on a slide, so he can encourage two independent flakes of snow to form in identical ways.
Studying how snowflakes form is key to science because we use crystals in all sorts of technology. As Libbrecht tells KQED: “Even with very important things like the semiconductors in computers, we don’t really understand the growth of crystals very well. There are recipes to make those silicon wafers that form the backbone of those microchips, but they mostly came about just by trial and error.”
His experiments may make the development of those crystals and wafers much more, well, structured.
Check out this great video by KQED Science that explains just what it takes to form twinsie snowflakes: