# Secrets of Snowflakes

## Mathematicians Use Models to Simulate Snowflake Growth

November 1, 2010

Mathematicians used mathematical equations to create a computer model that simulates the growth of snowflake crystals. The simulations closely mimic snowflakes found in nature. The model could help scientists better understand how various types of snowflake shapes in the clouds affect the amount of water reaching the ground.

## Science Insider

ABOUT SNOWFLAKES: Snow is a form of precipitation. Rising warm air carries water vapor high into the sky, where it cools and condenses into water droplets. Some vapor freezes into tiny ice crystals, which can attract cooled water drops to form snowflakes. As snowflakes fall, they meet warmer air and melt into raindrops, unless temperatures are below freezing close to the ground: then we get snow. A snow crystal is a single crystal of ice. It usually forms the shape of a hexagonal prism, but as the crystals grow, branches sprout from the corners, creating more complex shapes. Conditions such as temperature and humidity in the atmosphere can influence a snowflake's shape.

ABOUT COMPUTER MODELING: Computer modeling is used to simulate the structure and appearance both of static objects, such as building architecture, and of dynamic situations, such as a football game. Computer models can enable the user to test the consequences of choices and decisions. They can provide cutaway views that let you see aspects of an object that would be invisible in the real artifact, as well as visualization tools that can provide many different perspectives. Physical models that reproduce behavior are limited by the physics of the world, while computer models have much looser bounds. Physical models of living things can reproduce very few behaviors, compared to simulation models, and physical models simply cannot capture the sorts of species-level and conceptual-level phenomena that artificial life and artificial intelligence models do. Computer models enable you to run companies and civilizations, fight battles, play football games and evolve new species.

The American Meteorological Society, the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, and the American Physical Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

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To Go Inside This Science:

David Griffeath
Department of Mathematics
griffeat@math.wisc.edu

American Meteorological Society
Boston, MA 02108-3693
617-227-2425

Ivars Peterson
Mathematical Association of America
Washington, DC 20036-1358
ipeterson@maa.org
1-800-741-9415

Mike Breen and Annette Emerson
American Mathematical Society
Providence, RI 02904-2294
paoffice@ams.org
1-800-321-4267

James Riordon, Media Relations
American Physical Society
College Park, MD
301-209-3238
Riordon@aps.org