Weather and Art: Snowflakes

We have all heard the phrase, “no two snowflakes are alike.” This popular adage originated in the late nineteenth century and is widely credited to Wilson Bentley, a farmer from Jericho, Vermont with a deep curiosity about water’s various forms. He was also the first person to photograph individual snowflakes.

Bentley collected fresh falling snowflakes on a blackboard and documented them for posterity with a technique known as photomicrography. This is a photographic process that involves attaching a camera to a microscope. Working in the late 1880s and early 1900s – the days before film – Bentley’s images were captured on emulsion covered glass plates. His first icy masterpiece dates to 1885.

During the course of his lifetime, Bentley photographed more than 5000 individual snowflakes and did not find any two to be exactly alike. In 1931, he published a book of his work entitled, “Snow Crystals.” Extensive collections of his images can be seen at the Jericho Historical Society in Vermont and the Buffalo Museum of Science in upstate New York.

Scientists today continue to study how snow crystals grow.

Photo of an individual snowflake circa Winter 1901-02 by Wilson Bentley.                   Credit: Wilson Bentley/Smithsonian Institution Archives

Photo of an individual snowflake circa Winter 1901-02 by Wilson Bentley.                   Credit: Wilson Bentley/Smithsonian Institution Archives

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About Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming is an environmental communicator and visual artist working at the intersection of art and science. She is passionate about exploring, learning, and sharing information about the natural world. She has presented her interdisciplinary work in a variety of mediums at venues and conferences around the world.