Snowflake Preservation

Have you ever wanted to save a snowflake for photography or just to look at it later. In 1931 Wilson A. Bentley published “Snow Crystals” which contains over 2,400 photographs of snowflakes taken over 47 winters. When Bentley took his photographs he had to work quickly before heat from his body melted the subject. Since that time we have developed a number of ways to preserve snow crystals.

In 1951 Vincent J. Schaeffer pioneered a method using a coating of polyvinyl formal in ethylene dichloride, but ethylene dichloride is now classed as toxic and a suspected carcinogen making it much more difficult for the average hobbyist to obtain. Other chemists have suggesting using chloroform instead but it is also quite difficult to obtain. Still others have tried plastic, hair or workable fixative spray with only limited success. I have also learned of a method that uses clear nail polish to preserve the snowflake.

In 1979 chemist Tryggvi Emilsson developed a process using cyanoacrylate, commonly referred to as “super glue”. Cynoacrylate works best on objects that have some moisture in them, because snowflakes are made from water they are fanstastic candidates for superglue preservation. Start by placing microscope slides, coverslips and superglue (the runny type, not the gel type) outside on a day when it is 20 degrees Farenheit or colder out. The materials will need time to cool down to the ambient temperature. Catch snowflakes on the slides or carefully pick them up and place them on a slide with a cold tweezers. Place a drop of superglue over a snowflake on the slide and carefully drop a coverslip over the top. Be carful not to press down hard and keep the heat from your hands away from the flake. Keep the slide in a freezer for a week or two until the glue completely hardens before allowing the slide to warm up.

This information is based on an article by Theodore Gray in the March 2006 volume of Popular Mechanics. Check out his “Gray Matter” article there for more information on the Emilsson method.

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