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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Intense snowflakes

by Craig Bettenhausen
December 10, 2020


A microscope image of a snowflake.
Credit: Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine
Snowflakes. Shot on 3-01-2020 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Shot with the Phase One and Mitutoyo 7.5x 0.21NA. 88 images focus stacked. Original files (s25 487013.IIQ-s25 487100.IIQ)

S:\Cataloged Digital Assets\NPM Projects and Gallery\2020\2020-03-03 thru 2020-03-03 SFC Yellowknife Fairbanks\2020-03-01 Fairbanks\_NA_IIQ\s25 487013.IIQ

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Credit: Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine
A microscope image of a snowflake.
Credit: Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine

You’ve seen snowflakes before, but not like this. Each of these images is a composite of 100 to 500 individual photographs taken on a custom-built 100 megapixel microscope camera. Nathan Myhrvold needed many shots of each snowflake to capture the detail he wanted through the depth of the tiny ice crystals. That kind of gear—complete with sapphire lenses, micron-level image stability, and sub-zero liquid cooling—isn’t available off the shelf, so Myhrvold took more than a year building it. Luckily, the former Microsoft chief technology officer, Stephen Hawking collaborator, and author of science-nerd cookbook favorite the Modernist Cuisine is no stranger to obsessive scientific and engineering projects. Why would a guy who seems like he can do anything dial in on insanely detailed snow photography? “Snow is an omnipresent part of nature that holds so much beauty,” Myhrvold told C&EN in an email. “On one hand, snowflakes are utterly beautiful, but on the other hand, they’re utterly common. It’s amazing that they can change minute by minute, right before your eyes, and there’s billions of them. I can be looking at a particularly beautiful one under a microscope and then look up to see a billion more, which is a billion I’ll never see.”

Credit: Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine

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