High Tech Photos Capture Snowflakes Like Never Before

Microscopy used to be a rarity in the hobby electronics world. But anyone doing lab work has always needed a microscope and with today’s tiny parts, it is almost a necessity. However, [Nathan Myhrvold] didn’t use an ordinary microscope to capture some beautiful snowflake pictures. According to [My Modern Met], the pictures are the highest resolution snowflake pictures ever taken.

Of course, the site is more interested in the visual aspect of it, but they did provide some clues about the tech behind the pictures. According to the site:

Myhrvold used a special camera of his own design. He combined the magnifying power of a microscopic lens.. with a specially designed optical path. This path allowed the lens to channel its image to a medium-format digital sensor… In addition, the camera featured a cooling stage upon which the tiny specimens could rest. With LED short-pulse lights and a shutter speed of less than 500 microseconds, Myhrvold was able to capture multiple images of each snowflake at different focal lengths. These images were then stacked to create the final image.

As you might expect, [Myhrvold] isn’t a weekend photographer. He holds a PhD in Physics and did post doc work with Stephen Hawking at Cambridge. He was Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer for a time and then founded a company merging cooking and photography, where these are available as prints.

According to the post’s interview with [Myhrvold], it took 18 months to design and build the camera. It helped to take the pictures on location where it was quite cold. You’d think colder would be better, but apparently there is a sweet spot where the snowflakes don’t clump together nor do they dry out. Also using the cooling stage and pulsed LEDs help in not melting the snowflake before the picture completes.

We wonder what photograph or microphotograph rigs you’ve built? Most of the microscope hacks we see are a little less involved. Hooking up a camera is a common affair, but we haven’t seen refrigeration and light modulation before.

Photo Credit: Ice Queen by [Nathan Myhrvold]

18 thoughts on “High Tech Photos Capture Snowflakes Like Never Before

  1. Amazing what whimsy and an unlimited budget can do. From the same guy who brought you the million dollar laser to shoot down mosquitoes one by one, in respond to Bill Gates’ challenge to fight malaria.
    But… Myhrvold.
    Wikipedia says it concisely: “… in 2000 Myhrvold co-founded Intellectual Ventures, a patent portfolio developer and broker in the areas of technology and energy, known as “the ultimate patent trolls,” …

      1. One does not simply “sue” someone like Myhrvold. His essentially unlimited budget and veritable army of lawyers would SLAPP you so fast your head would spin off.

        Besides: Every snowflake is unique, right? Ergo, no copyright infringement.

        1. Arrgh, I need a sarcasm sign ;) I meant it would be a nice carma kind of thing.
          And the technological side of this “never before” photography is not that new. Microscope+DSLR photography with focus stacking and postprocessing can already be found all over the web.

  2. I’ve seen this featured over at dpreview a few weeks back or so. I found it somewhat fishy that there was not even a crop of a full-res shot featured, let alone a whole full-res shot. Because he wants to make money with them and not give them away for free, or something along that line.

    1. Money is one form of power. He didn’t end up with a lot of it by accident, though luck is always involved to some extent, starting with being born, food, shelter and schooling provided, what opportunities are available, etc.

      Not saying wanting power is bad; it can come from skill, formal authority, charisma, money, intelligence, physical attributes, etc. Someone with very little power would be a patient in a vegetative state on a heart/lung machine. Much preferable to be conscious and able to think, breathe, talk, walk on your own, etc.

      Then there’s what you do with your power. Hopefully, improve the world.

  3. “like never before” is a total lie. This is what Wilson Bentley did in the 1800s. This is nothing new and it’s offensive to take someone’s idea verbatim and then pronounce it’s never been seen before when the original creation happened well over a hundred years ago…

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