Books & arts
The white stuff
Snow. By Anthony Wood.
Anthony wood remembers sitting in the classroom one snowy morning as his teacher eyed the “saucer-size flakes” swirling outside the window. “Please boys and girls”, she implored, “pray that it stops snowing.” How little she grasped the mind of children, Mr Wood observes: “We were praying, alright—praying that it would snow until June.”
Everyone knows children love snow. Mr Wood’s new book is meant for adults who remain infatuated. It is less a systematic history than a meander through assorted snow-related subjects—beginning with the snowflake itself, which the author describes poetically as “the DNA of God”.
These miniature ice crystals were once neglected by scientists, who saw little practical benefit in studying them. Their disdain, however, was not shared by Wilson Bentley, a farm boy in Vermont who was given a microscope on his 15th birthday in 1880; later he acquired a bellows-camera, which he adapted to take the first-ever photomicrographs of snowflakes, being careful not to breathe on his evanescent subjects before tripping the shutter.
Inspired by Bentley’s ethereal images, in 1936 Nakaya Ukichiro, a Japanese nuclear physicist, became the first person to manufacture snow in the lab. His research on how the crystals form showed that snowflakes develop on the fly, during their sometimes hours-long journey to the ground. The higher the humidity that they encounter on the way, the more intricate their architecture becomes.