Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mathematical 'Snowfakes' Mimic Nature, Advance Science

Date:
February 25, 2009
Source:
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Summary:
Exquisitely detailed and beautifully symmetrical, the snowflakes made by a mathematician are icy jewels of art. But don't be fooled; there is some serious science behind a mathematician's charming creations. Although they look as if they tumbled straight from the clouds, these "snowfakes" are actually the product of an elaborate computer model designed to replicate the wildly complex growth of snow crystals.

Four years in the making, the model that Griffeath built with University of California, Davis, mathematician Janko Gravner can generate all of nature's snowflake types in rich three-dimensional detail.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison

Exquisitely detailed and beautifully symmetrical, the snowflakes that David Griffeath makes are icy jewels of art.

But don't be fooled; there is some serious science behind the University of Wisconsin-Madison mathematician's charming creations. Although they look as if they tumbled straight from the clouds, these "snowfakes" are actually the product of an elaborate computer model designed to replicate the wildly complex growth of snow crystals.

Four years in the making, the model that Griffeath built with University of California, Davis, mathematician Janko Gravner can generate all of nature's snowflake types in rich three-dimensional detail. In the January issue of Physical Review E, the pair published the model's underlying theory and computations, which are so intensive they are "right on the edge of feasibility," says Griffeath.

"Even though we've artfully stripped down the model over several years so that it's as simple and efficient as possible, it still takes us a day to grow one of these things," he says.

In nature, each snowflake begins as a bit of dust, a bacterium or a pollutant in the sky, around which water molecules start glomming together and freezing to form a tiny crystal of ice. Roughly a quintillion (one million million million) molecules make up every flake, with the shape dictated by temperature, humidity and other local conditions.

How such a seemingly random process produces crystals that are at once geometrically simple and incredibly intricate has captivated scientists since the 1600s, but no one has accurately simulated their growth until now. Griffeath and Gravner's model not only gets the basic shapes right, including fern-like stars, long needles and chunky prisms, but also fine elements such as tiny ridges that run along the arms and weird, circular surface markings.

Griffeath considers himself part of a long tradition of scientists, starting with famed mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, who have marveled at snowflakes and simply wanted to understand them. But on the practical side, the model could help researchers better predict how various snowflake types in the clouds affect the amount of water reaching earth. Griffeath is now exploring that possibility with a UW-Madison meteorologist.

In the meantime, the project has given him a newfound appreciation for water, whose one-of-a-kind properties are what make snowflakes possible.

"Water is the most amazing molecule in the universe, pure and simple," he says. "It's just three little atoms, but its physics and chemistry are unbelievable."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Wisconsin-Madison. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Mathematical 'Snowfakes' Mimic Nature, Advance Science." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090224163643.htm>.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (2009, February 25). Mathematical 'Snowfakes' Mimic Nature, Advance Science. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090224163643.htm
University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Mathematical 'Snowfakes' Mimic Nature, Advance Science." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090224163643.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Computers & Math News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

What This MIT Sensor Could Mean For The Future Of Robotics

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) MIT researchers developed a light-based sensor that gives robots 100 times the sensitivity of a human finger, allowing for "unprecedented dexterity." Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Oculus Reveals New Virtual Reality Headset Prototype

Oculus Reveals New Virtual Reality Headset Prototype

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) Oculus announced a new virtual reality headset prototype Saturday, saying the product is close to being ready for consumers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How To Protect Your Data In The Still-Vulnerable iOS 8

How To Protect Your Data In The Still-Vulnerable iOS 8

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) One security researcher says despite Apple's efforts to increase security in iOS 8, it's still vulnerable to law enforcement data-transfer techniques. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Much Privacy Protection Will Google's Android L Provide?

How Much Privacy Protection Will Google's Android L Provide?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) Google's local encryption will make it harder for law enforcement or malicious actors to access the contents of devices running Android L. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins