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Capturing snowflakes (Part 2)

February 11, 2012 @ 02:09 By: gordon Category: General, Photography, Weather

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about trying to capture and preserve some snowflakes like Leonard did on The Big Bang Theory. So I did some research and determined that it’s a fairly straight forward process involving a glass microscope slide, some cyanoacrylate (CA) glue (aka Krazy Glue), and some snowflakes.

And then I tried actually doing it.

I headed out to a nearby park and set myself up a one of the picnic tables one snowy evening and made four different slides trying a couple of different techniques to see if one was better than the other.

Ironically, one can have too much snow when trying to capture snowflakes. As you can see in one of the photos I took, it didn’t take long before the slides and black plate had a layer of snow on them. An annoying layer of snow because ideally you want just one or two really nice snowflakes on the slide and then put a drop of CA glue on them and then drop a slide cover on it. I couldn’t blow the excess snowflakes off because they would melt from the heat.

Fortunately, I had a small paint brush, so I was able to get ride of most of the excess flakes.

The microscope slides are very thin and the slide covers even thinner. I noticed that after just a few seconds of holding the slides by the corners that the snow flakes at the corners started to melt, so I tried holding them as little as possible. I used tweezers to carefully drop the slide covers on the glue and flakes.

Figuring out how much glue was necessary was quite tricky. I used a single drop of glue on the first slide and found that it didn’t really cover enough when the slide cover was put on it. Still, it actually turned out reasonably well for a first attempt.

Slide 1 - full

Zooming in on the area in the middle, you can actually see the clump of flakes that were preserved:

Slide 1 - close up

I’m actually impressed! It looks like snowflakes as opposed to CA glue, eh?

One of the things about cyanoacrylate glue is that it has a strong affinity to water. In fact, that’s how this works. So, if it comes into contact with any moisture, it’s going to bond to it. Even if a bit of it got on the bottom of the slide.

This is the front of another slide:

IMG_4675

And this is the back:

IMG_4676

If you look closely, you can see the shadow cast by the glue that got on the bottom. Interestingly, the snow that it came into contact with was nicely preserved even though it wasn’t sandwiched under a slide cover.

Zooming in on one of the clumps on the back, you can see the something very interesting. I don’t think it’s an actual snow flake, but rather a water droplet that froze slowly before it came into contact with the glue, because it looks similar to frost you might find on a window. Very cool! (No pun intended.)

Slide 2 - back - close up

I must admit this really isn’t something that I’d given a whole lot of thought to, but snowflakes can break. When there’s a lot of snow falling, they tend to get broken more frequently. When I was looking through one of the other slides, I was pleasantly surprised to find some mostly intact examples of dendritic snowflakes:

Dendrite #1

Dendrite #2

All in all, I think this was a successful first attempt. The next time I try this I know some things to look out for (e.g. Krazy Glue is very sticky). I’m also going to try to keep the slides sheltered from the direct snow and use a small paint brush to transfer the flakes onto the slides. I’m also going to try making a couple of slides without using slide covers.

I took all of the pictures using the macro mode of my Canon SD850IS point-and-shoot camera. What I’d really like to do is take some photos using a microscope.

Hmmm… I wonder what I can find on eBay?

35 Responses to “Capturing snowflakes (Part 2)”


  1. James says:

    I’d love to pay you for one if you could do another unbroken?

    • gordon says:

      Hi James…

      We had a really early spring this year and all of the snow has long melted — well, except for the dirty black pile in the corner of the parking lot across the street — so I can’t make any more snowflake slides this year. 🙁

      But, check back with me in about 7 or 8 months and I’ll see what I can do then. 🙂

  2. Shelley says:

    Hi,
    I would love to buy a preserved snowflake as a gift – how’s the snow been so far this year?
    Thanks,
    Shelley

    • gordon says:

      Well, we’ve had a fair bit of snow this year, but I haven’t preserved any flakes, yet. I’ve got your address from your comment, so if I have any success I’ll let you know and we can figure things out. 🙂

      • Shelley says:

        Oh brilliant! Thanks 🙂 fingers crossed it goes well!

        How much snow have you had?

  3. Dennis says:

    Hello, My son is 8 years old, super into science and math, and i was wondering if i could order one of the snowflakes?? Were in Pennsylvania, and i don’t know if its not cold enough or our snow isn’t any good lol. But we’ve tried to do this 5 or six times now and every time we go to do it, it never turnes out. Maybe you can give me a pointer or two or maybe i can just buy one from you. Let me know.

    Thanks

  4. gordon says:

    As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s been a fairly snowy winter in Ottawa this year. Naturally, I haven’t been able to get out to capture any flakes when it has actually been snowing. But I’m going to give it one last try this evening or tomorrow. After that, it looks like it’s going to be too warm for snow.

    If I have any success, I’ll let people know. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

    • Dennis says:

      Fingers crossed and an excited 8 year old awaits.

      • Shelley says:

        Fingers crossed and an excited 25 year old awaits 😉

        • gordon says:

          When I arrived home from work this evening I noticed that the snow was gently falling so I grabbed my kit from the freezer and set myself up on the balcony. I made six or seven slides, however I’m not sure how they’ll turn out. Even though the slides and glue were cold from the freezer, the air temperature was right around freezing so everything warmed up faster than I’d expected. It takes a couple of days for the glue to set in the freezer, so time will tell whether I was successful or whether I now have seven pieces of glass with crazy glue on them. If they turn out, I’ll let you guys know.

          (Un)fortunately, it looks like the end of winter in Ottawa is nigh because the daytime temperatures for later this week are forecast to be consistently above freezing, though the nighttime lows are still forecast to be below freezing. Today was probably the last chance I’ll have this winter to try this.

          • James says:

            I’ve got my paypal account at the ready;)

            • Dennis says:

              I told my son about it last-night and couldn’t stop talking about it during the Pens game. Can’t wait to see how they turn out.

  5. Amanda says:

    so awesome! I’m definitely following this andchecking backnext year tosee if you’re selling them!

    Amanda

  6. Jaymes says:

    I recorded a how-to video on this process:

    Here is my best attempt thus far:
    http://i.imgur.com/rlEgNzh.jpg

    • gordon says:

      Hey… That is a great how-to! One thing to remember is that the crazy glue needs to be cold, too, or it’ll melt the snowflakes. I’ve been using glass slide covers, but I’ve been thinking about trying it with a second slide instead — next year! 🙂

      Winter here is basically done (I’m ignoring the forecast for a couple of days hence that’s calling for snow). My last attempt was about a month ago. I had one slide that turned out quite well, though it looks like you had better flakes than I did, another that was so-so and the others that are basically glass with glue on them.

  7. Keith says:

    Hi,

    Could you help to preserve some snowflake samples for me? I would love to pay for some as a birthday gift to someone special who has never seen snow before.

    Please let me know if its possible!

    • gordon says:

      Hi Keith…

      I haven’t tried to capture any this year. There was a snowfall a few weeks ago that made me think “this would be perfect to try to preserve”, but I wasn’t in a position to do anything about it. :-/

      There’s some snow forecast for later this week. If it’s the right type (i.e. big fluffy flakes and I have the time, I’ll see if I can preserve a couple. Keep your fingers crossed. 🙂

  8. dana stewart says:

    hi I’m hoping you can help me I’m trying to preserve snowflakes and all I keep getting is just a white blob blob in the middle of my slide I keep all of my materials outside in the cold. I’m using the Scotch super glue and I’m using the brush and everything else that was recommended and have Amy freezer crankedcall the way up. I’m not quite sure what I’m doing wrong, any help would be appreciated.

    • gordon says:

      Hi Dana…

      Could you post a picture of what you’re ending up with? It’s probably a bit hard to get a sense of scale from my pictures, but the actual snowflakes I preserved are tiny little things.

      • dana stewart says:

        content://media/external/file/20838
        up close they are just white blobs. When I put them down they were perfect dendrites. Your app works perfectly.

      • dana stewart says:

        The pictures are not pasting correctly

        Here they are:

        and

        • gordon says:

          You mentioned in your email that you are storing things at about 20F, but that the snowflakes melt shortly after applying the glue.

          When I did this the first couple of times, I was surprised as how quickly the glass slides, and particularly the thin glass slide covers, would heat up, even when I was gingerly holding them by the corners. The trick was to avoid touching the slides any more than absolutely necessary, because it only took a second or two for two glass to heat up. The slide covers were so thin that they heated up instantaneously. I used a pair of tweezers, also chilled like everything else, to put them on.

          If you’re storing your glue, slides and everything else in the freezer or outside at 20F, they should be cold enough, particularly if you give them a day or two. Also, try to handle the glue as little as possible because it’ll warm up quickly.

          Give this a try and let me know how it works out. Good luck!

          • dana stewart says:

            Will do we are having more snow tomorrow. Thanks!

          • Dana says:

            GOT ONE!! I took your comment about the coverslip heating up so I put my gloves outside in box in the snowbank next to the barn where I keep the kit and pre prepared my coverslips by separating them and putting them in a holder so I could just pull them out as needed and it worked!! Thank you so much for your help. : )


Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. gordon.dewis.ca | Snow on the way in to work this morning (February 15, 2012 @ 09:53)
  2. gordon.dewis.ca | Capturing snowflakes (Part 1) (January 16, 2013 @ 12:55)

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