The Man Who Discovered the Hidden Structure of Falling Snowflakes

Amateur photographer Wilson A. Bentley thought snowflakes were "miracles of beauty."

Beginning in the early 1880s, William A. Bentley devised a mechanism that combined a microscope with a view camera. He used light-sensitive glass plates to take sophisticated “portraits” of individual snow crystals. Over the years he made pictures of thousands of snow crystals, which is a daunting challenge, since he had to isolate individual crystals and there can be 200 of them in a large snowflake. He approached the Smithsonian in 1904 with nearly 20 years of photographs and a manuscript describing his methods and findings but they turned him down because they’re “unscientific,” so he sold many of his glass plates to schools and colleges.

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