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Are Snowflakes Truly Unique, Like You?

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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

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Adam Frank was a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. A professor at the University of Rochester, Frank is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and currently heads a research group developing supercomputer code to study the formation and death of stars. Frank's research has also explored the evolution of newly born planets and the structure of clouds in the interstellar medium. Recently, he has begun work in the fields of astrobiology and network theory/data science. Frank also holds a joint appointment at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy fusion lab.

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