Individual snowflakes are only a few millimeters wide and extremely fragile. This makes them difficult to photograph. Nathan Myhrvold, a scientist from California, has invented a device—part microscope and part camera—to capture the world’s sharpest images of these delicate frozen flakes.
First, Myhrvold catches a freshly fallen snowflake on a piece of black foam. Then he transfers it to a slide made from artificial sapphire, a material that stays cooler than glass when chilled. Myhrvold places the slide into his device, which has coolant pumping through it to keep it cold. This liquid has a low freezing point, or temperature at which it freezes into a solid. Finally, Myhrvold snaps a photo. The camera flashes a pulse of light for just a millionth of a second to avoid overheating the snowflake.
The setup allows Myhrvold to capture breathtaking photos before the snowflake melts. “I hope these photos show people that there’s beauty in things they can’t see with the naked eye,” he says.