Crystals show up everywhere in the photonics world and are vitally
important to the laser and optics fields in particular. But crystalline silica,
sapphire and other materials are not as fragile and transitory as water ice crystals:
People become fans of snow at a young age – if they live
in the right regions to be exposed to it. They may even remain fans after they grow
up and have to shovel copious amounts of it and drive through it. Some people enjoy
snow so much that the startling intricacies of ice crystal formation drive them
to become scientists. One scientist who has carried his passion for snow crystals
into his academic career is Kenneth G. Libbrecht of California Institute of Technology
Photos courtesy of Kenneth G. Libbrecht, California Institute of Technology.
Using a custom-made photomicrography system, Libbrecht has traveled
the world taking amazing still shots of individual crystals and even videos showing
how the crystals form. Shown on this page are some of his photos illuminating the
various forms that snow crystals can assume. Libbrecht also hosts a website, snowcrystals.com,
that features an excellent guide to snow crystals and flakes, including a primer
on snow formation and instructions for building and using a personal snow photomicroscope.
The hobby is not for anyone intimidated by the cold, however;
according to Libbrecht, he gets the best results when the temperature is about —15
°C, or 5 °F.