Crystals are made when a substance has atoms or molecules that form in a very organized, repeating, 3D pattern. Usually when we think of crystals we think of some well-known gemstones like diamonds or rubies, but there are some very common crystals too. Sugar, ice, snowflakes, and salt are all crystals.
Learn more about the naturally occurring crystal formation of snow and ice by reading Curious About Snow, a book from the Smithsonian featuring their signature full-color photographs, covers all the science behind how snow crystals form, the stories of record setting snowstorms, and an introduction to the life and work of photographer Wilson Bentley, who made it is life's work to study and photograph snowflakes. It is because of Wilson Bentley that we know no two snowflakes are alike. Really!
Mr. Bentley and his work is so fascinating, his story is worth reading in more detail. You can do that by reading the biography, Snowflake Bentley. You know what is really amazing about him? He made his discoveries in the 1890s! He was a self-taught scientist who spent more than 50 years pioneering and perfecting the method he used to photograph thousands of individual snowflakes in order to study their unique formations. He invented and used a special device that combined a microscope with a camera to capture his microscopic pictures. This book explains the rock solid science Bentley discovered and is extremely beautiful too! The book was Caldecott Medal Winner - that means the pictures are great! Included are some of Bentley's actual snow crystal photographs.
If you are going to go out and play in the snow - know your building material! You can make a scientific observation yourself or do a crystal experiment at home by making your own crystals grow using borax. Borax is a laundry detergent booster. You can find borax in the laundry room at home or in the laundry detergent section at the grocery store.
Try this experiment at home! You will need:
Fill a pitcher with 3 cups hot tap water. (Not so hot that you can't touch it!) Add 3 tablespoons of Borax for each cup of water. We used 3 cups of hot tap water and 9 tablespoons of Borax. A mason jar was a great container for this. Stir the mixture.
If all of the Borax dissolves, add a little more Borax and stir. Add Borax until the water can't dissolve it anymore - the mixture is saturated. That means the water is holding as much of the Borax as it can. In fact, this solution is supersaturated, that means the water is holding even more Borax than it normally would because the water has been heated. Now pour this supersaturated solution in the glass jar.
Make a shape out of the pipe cleaners and tie one end of the string to it. We made a snowflake shape out of pipe cleaners to see if we could make a snowflake crystal. Tie the other end of the string to the middle of the pen. Hang the pipe cleaner shape down in the jar with the pen across the top of the jar to keep it from touching the bottom of the jar. Watch what happens in the jar over the next few weeks.
Here is what our crystals looked like after growing on the pipe cleaner snowflake for about 2 weeks. The secret to good crystals is having a supersaturated solution.
Science Project Idea: Grow three different borax crystal snowflakes. You need three glass jars that are exactly alike. Fill one with cold tap water and one with hot tap water. Get an adult to help you fill the last jar with boiling water. Now add Borax a little a time to each jar until the Borax will not dissolve anymore. The warmer the water, the more Borax will dissolve in the water. That's because heating the water helps it become supersaturated. Now add a pipe cleaner snowflake to each jar and compare the crystals that grow over the next couple of weeks. Which jar has the most crystals? Which jar has the largest crystals?
You can also ask a math and science expert for homework help by calling the Ask Rose Homework Hotline. They provide FREE math and science homework help to Indiana students in grades 6-12.
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Learn about the qualities and identifying characteristics of crystals, the amazing naturally occurring patterns that happen in both minerals and snowflakes. No two are exactly alike, and yet each one has a uniform and repeating pattern. You can study how crystals form by growing some of your own! #indyplkids IndyPL_CarrieW
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