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Tiny water crystals tell giant tales

It's fleeting but can hang around for a few thousand years. It's feather light but, in accumulation, can crush a path through a mountain range. It muffles sound but makes the ground crunch under foot. It transforms gray urbanscapes into a white glistening that can cause normal people to suddenly burst into song.

Snow is a paradox.

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Despite its simplicity and abundance, these delicate water crystals still intrigue scientists. Writer Peter Spotts takes a look at the surprising sophistication and breadth of snowflake research and examines its far-reaching implications (see story).

And incongruously, one of the leading researchers in the field, Kenneth Libbrecht, carries out his experiments in the warm, sunny climes of Pasadena, Calif., where he has perfected the science of "designer crystals" - growing his own elaborate flakes.

The uniqueness of individual flakes has long been a source of awe for children and adults alike. But if the child in you persists, turn to page 12 to find out how to capture a tiny imprint of a snow crystal and study its formation without the inconvenience of an enormous scanning electron microscope in your basement.

Snow lands in our headlines again on page 17 in a review of "Downhill Slide," a book that investigates the cold realities of the corporate ski industry. Author Hal Clifford argues that the ski business spins dreams of pristine snow-scapes into a blizzard of commercialism that tends to be "bad for skiing, ski towns, and the environment."

So if your Christmas wasn't white, here's a quick snowmaking tour to brighten your entrance into the new year.


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