Let Sci-Tech Museum help you ‘catch a snowflake’

Even incredibly slight differences in temperature, humidity, starting height, wind effects and speed of their descent, create different crystallization patterns in snowflakes — but they always form in six sides. Pexels

WATERTOWN — This is another installment in the Sci-Tech Museum’s “Homebound Science” program.

The Sci-Tech Museum, 154 Stone St., launched the program last year during the state’s PAUSE order relating to the pandemic. The science program involves “hands-on” experiments to try with materials found around homes or in nature.


Materials you will need:

1) Glass microscope slide, or other flat glass object such as a small picture frame with glass protector, or the mirror in a compact. Make sure your slide is glass, not plastic.

2) Artist’s spray fixative, or clear acrylic spray coating, or hairspray. Make sure that the product you use is not water-based. (Note, some hair sprays use butane as the propellant, which will not work at the low temperatures this experiment needs.)

3) A shoebox with cover, or other container large enough to hold both your glass slide and the can of spray.

4) Optional: Magnifying glass or microscope.

Try This:

1) Chill both the spray can and the glass slide to 25 degrees or colder. You can do this by placing them in the shoebox and leaving it outside in the cold, or by placing them in the freezer compartment of your refrigerator.

2) For the next step, wait for a light snowfall with a temperature 25 degrees or colder.

The following steps will all be done outside in the cold.

3) Hold the glass slide with gloves or mittens, so your fingers do not warm it up.

4) Shake the spray can for at least 30 seconds to mix the contents, then use it to lightly spray one side of the glass slide. (Do not use too much, as that will melt the snowflakes.)

5) Immediately turn the slide over, so no snow falls on the sprayed side.

6) Wait for the spray to begin to set. Depending on the type of spray you used, this can take anywhere from 20 seconds to 10 minutes. You can test it by touching the edge of the area you sprayed. When it becomes tacky, it is ready.

7) Turn the slide over with the sprayed side facing up. Let a few snowflakes fall on the spray coating.

8) Immediately place the glass slide in the shoebox, cover it, and leave it outside for at least an hour. This will allow the spray to dry.

9) Before bringing the glass slide inside, touch the edge of the area you sprayed. If it is not completely dry, continue to leave it outside.

10) Bring the glass slide inside, and observe your captured snowflakes.

What Is Happening?

As the spray coating was drying, the snowflakes were also evaporating. Once the snowflakes were gone, all that remains is the shape of the snowflakes, preserved in the coating.

Notice that all of the snowflakes have six points. That is due to the chemical properties of water. Snowflakes start to form when water vapor condenses and freezes around a microscopic bit of dust. As the flake falls through the sky, more water vapor freezes onto the original bit of ice, building additional crystals in the form of six arms or points.

Notice also that no two snowflakes are exactly the same. That is because no two snowflakes follow exactly the same path from their origin to the ground. Even incredibly slight differences in temperature, humidity, starting height, wind effects and speed of their descent, create different crystallization patterns — but always in a six-sided form.

Support Sci-Tech

You can help Sci-Tech during these challenging times and as the facility looks forward to reopening.

AmazonSmile is the philanthropic website operated by Amazon, with the exact same products, prices and shopping features as on Amazon.com. The difference is that when you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate a portion of the purchase price to Sci-Tech. So, if you normally shop on Amazon.com, instead go to: Smile.Amazon.com and help support Sci-Tech.

Or, to make a direct donation, send your tax-deductible contribution to Sci-Tech Center, 154 Stone St., Watertown, N.Y., 13601

Gift shop reopens

The Sci-Tech’s gift shop is now open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

New York state rules prohibit the public operation of the exhibit areas, due to their “hands-on” interactive nature. However, the science gift shop will allow you to purchase science kits, science novelties and science-related items meant to intrigue and delight young and old alike. These include gyroscopes, puzzles, mineral specimens, dinosaur models, touchable bubbles, flying things and more.

Also, each Saturday a few COVID-safe, no contact interactive exhibits will be placed in the gift shop. There is no charge to try these exhibits.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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