Meet the Scientist Who Worked as a Snowflake Consultant on Frozen

You might not recognize Ken Libbrecht on the street, but the odds are good you’ve seen his handiwork. Libbrecht is a physicist specializing in snowflakes, and his passion for ice crystals has made him something of a hot commodity.

Libbrecht’s interest in snowflakes came to him relatively late in life, well into his physics career. He was in North Dakota visiting family when a trip outside inspired a deceptively simple question, he told Smithsonian in 2013. “I suddenly thought, ‘Why don’t I understand more about these snowflakes?’” 

The reason, it turned out, was that science in general doesn’t understand a lot about how snowflakes form. So Libbrecht started examining, photographing, and cataloging the snowflakes he found. His stunning snowflake pictures have been collected into a number of popular coffee table books.

Still, he had questions, so Libbrecht built a snow machine. But rather than spewing feet of precipitation, the equipment grows a single snowflake at a time. "I call them 'designer snowflakes,'” he told Smithsonian, “because you can change the conditions as you grow them and predict what they'll look like.” The snowflake generators have indeed led to advances in crystallography and snow science, and Libbrecht’s work caught the attention of Disney animators, who brought him on board to ensure that their fairy tale flakes were true to life.

There’s one question that dogs Libbrecht wherever he goes: Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike? Here, he gets philosophical. “It depends on just what you mean by ‘alike,’” he wrote on his website, “and on just what you mean by ‘snowflake.’”

Listen to Libbrecht talk about his work and gaze at some gorgeous snowflakes in the video from Great Big Story above.

Header image from YouTube // Great Big Story

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Afternoon Map
The Most Popular Infomercial Product in Each State

You don't have to pay $19.95 plus shipping and handling to discover the most popular infomercial product in each state: AT&T retailer All Home Connections is giving that information away for free via a handy map.

The map was compiled by cross-referencing the top-grossing infomercial products of all time with Google Trends search interest from the past calendar year. So, which crazy products do people order most from their TVs?

Folks in Arizona know that it's too hot there to wear layers; that's why they invest in the Cami Secret—a clip-on, mock top that gives them the look of a camisole without all the added fabric. No-nonsense New Yorkers are protecting themselves from identity theft with the RFID-blocking Aluma wallet. Delaware's priorities are all sorted out, because tons of its residents are still riding the Snuggie wave. Meanwhile, Vermont has figured out that Pajama Jeans are the way to go—because who needs real pants?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular product in many states has to do with fitness and weight loss, because when you're watching TV late enough to start seeing infomercials, you're probably also thinking to yourself: "I need to get my life together. I should get in shape." Seven states—Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin—have invested in the P90X home fitness system, while West Virginia and Arkansas prefer the gentler workout provided by the Shake Weight. The ThighMaster is still a thing in Illinois and Washington, while Total Gym and Bowflex were favored by South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively. 

Kitchen items are clearly another category ripe for impulse-buying: Alabama and North Dakota are all over the George Forman Grill; Alaska and Rhode Island are mixing things up with the Magic Bullet; and Floridians must be using their Slice-o-matics to chop up limes for their poolside margaritas.

Cleaning products like OxiClean (D.C. and Hawaii), Sani Sticks (North Carolina), and the infamous ShamWow (which claims the loyalty of Mainers) are also popular, but it's Proactiv that turned out to be the big winner. The beloved skin care system claimed the top spot in eight states—California, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas—making it the most popular item on the map.

Peep the full map above, or check out the full study from All Home Connections here.

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Design
A Florida Brewery Created Edible Six-Pack Rings to Protect Marine Animals

For tiny scraps of plastic, six-pack rings can pose a huge threat to marine life. Small enough and ubiquitous enough that they’re easy to discard and forget about, the little plastic webs all too often make their way to the ocean, where animals can ingest or become trapped in them. In order to combat that problem, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery has created what they say is the world’s first fully biodegradable, compostable, edible six-pack rings.

The edible rings are made of barley and wheat and are, if not necessarily tasty, at least safe for animals and humans to ingest. Saltwater Brewery started packaging their beers with the edible six-pack rings in 2016. They charge slightly more for their brews to offset the cost of the rings' production. They hope that customers will be willing to pay a bit more for the environmentally friendly beers and are encouraging other companies to adopt the edible six-pack rings in order to lower manufacturing prices and save more animals.

As Saltwater Brewery president Chris Gove says in the video above: “We want to influence the big guys and kind of inspire them to also get on board.”

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