This post summarises the research I did for the Snowflakes eCard here. Some of the code and artwork from the eCard were re-purposed in this interactive snowflake maker which can create over 8 billion showflake shapes; one for each Earth citizen.
I was looking for a winter theme and started at the usual place with the WKSE (well known search engine). I found that what I thought of as snow flakes are in fact snow crystals; a snowflake can be composed of one or several snow crystals. There is a lot of information on the Caltech site that describes snow crystals and the mechanism of their formation, illustrated with some wonderful photographs, shown here.
The molecular lattice of a snowcrystal has a hexagonal form and this reflected in the structure of the snow crystals which can have either a 6-fold or more rarely a 12-fold symmetry. Man always needs to classify the world and snow crystals are no exception. Crystals can be simple plates, or rods or more complex stellate forms. The seemingly infinite number of form of snow crystals arises from small differences in the starting conditions of formation.
This site: pandasthumb.org cites Ukichiro Nakaya and his work on snowflake morphology in the 1950s and provides this diagram which relates snow crystal morphology to temperature of formation.
An alternative classification can be found on the NASA site.
This site directed me to the information on Wilson Bentley (Although I did get distracted to read about of the LOTR exhibit.)
Wilson Bentley, a.k.a the ‘Snowflake Man’, was a self-taught farmer who developed a technique to photograph snow crystals.
He published some of the photographs in Snow Crystals by W.A. Bentley and W.J. Hunphreys, Dover Press.
What appears to be the entire collection of his images is presented here.
The site includes an extensive list of links to other sites dealing with snow and has a number of items for purchase related to Wilson Bentley and his work. One that caught my eye was a poster of a montage of snowflake patterns in relation to temperature of formation.
If you want to try preserving snowflakes a guide is available here.
A number of other sites contain images of snow crystals.
Perhaps because of their symmetry and apparent infinite variety, snow crystals seem to be a source of inspiration for many artists. I came across a number of sites that offer snowflake designs, although strictly speaking they did not always adhere to the 6-fold or 12-fold symmetry, which I guess is artistic licence.
The shape of a snow crystal can also be abstracted as a fractal form known as the Koch Snowflake. An interactive display can be found here. It is created by drawing successively smaller equilateral triangles, to infinity. The bounding curve is infinite in length, but encompasses a finite area. Colours of Infinity. Various authors. Clear Press. 2004
I was also interested to see how snowflakes were implemented into interactive works.
This site uses Flash to allow the user to create their own snowflake by paper cutting. In the time honoured tradition, here is one I prepared earlier:
A similar Flash app is available here, with a better interface so you can see the flake develop as you cut. Although it is impossible to draw straight lines!