Wild complex growth of snowflakes replicated by computer model

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Washington, Feb 25 (ANI): A mathematician has made an elaborate computer model designed to replicate the wildly complex growth of snowflakes.

Four years in the making, the model that David Griffeath, University of Wisconsin-Madison mathematician, built with University of California, Davis, mathematician Janko Gravner, can generate all of nature's snowflake types in rich three-dimensional detail.

In the January issue of Physical Review E, the pair published the model's underlying theory and computations, which are so intensive they are "right on the edge of feasibility," said Griffeath.

"Even though we've artfully stripped down the model over several years so that it's as simple and efficient as possible, it still takes us a day to grow one of these things," he said.

In nature, each snowflake begins as a bit of dust, a bacterium or a pollutant in the sky, around which water molecules start glomming together and freezing to form a tiny crystal of ice.

Roughly a quintillion (one million million million) molecules make up every flake, with the shape dictated by temperature, humidity and other local conditions.

How such a seemingly random process produces crystals that are at once geometrically simple and incredibly intricate has captivated scientists since the 1600s, but no one has accurately simulated their growth until now.

Griffeath and Gravner's model not only gets the basic shapes right, including fern-like stars, long needles and chunky prisms, but also fine elements such as tiny ridges that run along the arms and weird, circular surface markings.

The model could help researchers better predict how various snowflake types in the clouds affect the amount of water reaching earth. (ANI)

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