Beautiful, calming and serene… who wants a white Christmas?

In our home, we have a thing for symmetry.  And lets face it, snowflakes are full of it.

Check out these images from Cal Tech.

In what ways are these snowflakes the same?  They have a 6-part symmetry (like other minerals in the hexagonal crystal system), and they are frozen water.  There has been a bit of discussion here at betterscienceteaching about changes of state (see the Toffee post!), and water is much safer for kids to play with than molten sugar!  Let your students/kids melt ice in their hands, or play in the snow.  You can also check out ice balloons – which are just fun and beautiful. (enchanting image from  I don’t think she intended these as a science lesson – but I’ve played with these in a workshop for teachers where we used them as a starting point to discuss the sorts of questions we can answer.  (My partner and I drilled a hole in ours using nothing but table salt, by the way.)

Now, 6 part symmetry.  I’ve been thinking a lot about symmetry these days, because I’m getting my little science olympiad rocks and minerals team ready for an event in a few weeks.  These snowflakes clearly have a 6-sided symmetry, which makes them like quartz, or beryl. (Beryl image from

I’m not saying that ice behaves like these minerals.  Of course the physical properties are very different, but when minerals make the same shapes, it means that the atoms within the mineral arrange themselves in a similar way.

And in case you’re looking for a way to waste your time investigate snowflakes today, check this out!


Stay warm today, folks, and make sure the students, children, and teachers in your life know what they mean to you.

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