Each summer since 2016 every group of National STEM Scholars has spent part of their first day at Western Kentucky University building and using their own personal smartphone microscope. However, one of the most beautiful uses for this simple device must wait till winter. National STEM Scholar Program co-director Rico Tyler and his daughter middle school science teacher Robin Tyler recently used their smartphone microscopes to capture snowflake images.
Each snowflake’s shape tells a unique story of time, temperature and humidity. Round pellets of sleet tell a story of rain drops frozen while falling. Each snowflake begins as a tiny 6-sided hexagonal plate. As the plate falls water vapor collects at each of the 6 corners forming arms. Since each snowflake takes a different path while falling the slightly different temperatures and humidity of each path creates a different snowflake shape. The 6-sided symmetry common to each snowflake comes from the way water molecules bond together.