Nathan Myhrvold worked with Stephen Hawking on cosmology in the 1980s and ’90s and was the first-ever CTO of tech giant Microsoft. After his retirement, he wrote an award-winning cookbook and published a scientific paper on dinosaurs.
Now he is taking pictures of snowflakes.
The road to these great photos began in 2018. Myhrvold is a physics professor at Caltech who has studied the science behind snowflake formation for decades.Inspired by Kenneth G. Libbrecht, he decided he wanted to photograph snowflakes himself. It started when
Then, in true Type A fashion, he spent 18 months building a system that combined cameras and microscopes to capture the world’s highest resolution pictures of snowflakes.
All aspects of Myhrvold’s system are optimized for photographing snowflakes.
He used a more stable carbon fiber frame because moving the system between indoors and outdoors causes the metal housing to expand and contract, affecting the microscope’s ability to focus.
To slow the melting, Mirvold decided to add a cooling system and use slides made of sapphire rather than glass. The latter is easier to retain heat. He searched the world for the perfect flash.
“The light can melt snowflakes, so I found a company in Japan that makes LED lights for industrial use,” he told Smithsonian Magazine. “My camera’s flash is one millionth of a second and he’s 1,000 times faster than a typical camera flash.”
After acquiring the perfect camera system, Myhrvold began searching for the perfect snowflake and set up homes in the relatively warm Pacific Northwest of Alaska and Canada.
“Temperature was the primary factor determining location in these photos, in addition to considering wind, humidity and humidity,” Myhrvold told My Modern Met.
“The warmer it gets, the easier it is for the snowflakes to clump together, and the colder it gets, the quicker it dries out,” he added. “Some of the best snowflakes I’ve found had temperatures between -15°F and -20°F.”
Once on location, Myrvold rained snowflakes onto black foam board. He then identified his most promising specimens and used a paintbrush to delicately transfer them onto his sapphire slides.
Myhrvold then carefully focused the microscope on the snowflakes and took pictures, averaging over 100 pictures of each snowflake. Then, using his computer program, he was able to combine multiple photographs into one highly detailed photograph.
“You have to take a lot of photos to get high enough resolution, because when you combine a lot of photos you get enough depth of field to see the entire snowflake very clearly,” he says. told the Smithsonian.
Myhrvold sells prints of snowflake photos through his art gallery, and as of 2021, he was still changing his camera settings to add new features. Eventually I would like to create a 3D replica of him in a 2D image.
“Currently there is no [3D] It’s a printer that can print at the resolution of real snowflakes,” he told the Smithsonian. “But if it’s the size of a dinner plate, definitely.”
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