Each Snowflake a Snapshot of Beauty – Wilson Bentley’s Eureka

Wilson Alwyn ‘Snowflake’ Bentley died on December 23rd, 1931, in winter, surrounded by millions and millions of his most favorite crystals falling quietly to the ground in Jericho, Vermont. He died of pneumonia because he walked 6 miles through a blizzard – a true scientist at heart.

In theory, his career was set when he was born to a dairy farmer family in 1865. Bentley was homeschooled by his mother, a former teacher, who was to give him his first microscope when he was 15. Bentley was enchanted by everything. He put various specimen underneath the lenses and was fascinated by the microcosmos that unraveled itself before his eyes. This fascination would never leave him!

Snowflakes – Melting Miracles of Beauty

In his early twenties he, for the first time, looked at snowflakes and described this event as follows: “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others,” Bentley would later tell an interviewer. “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design, and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. . . . I became possessed with a great desire to show people something of this wonderful loveliness, an ambition to become, in some measure, its preserver.”

After his encounter with the microscopic structure of a snowflake, it took two years to develop a well-working method; from catching the snowflake to taking a photograph underneath the microscope. For Bentley, this meant an enormous amount of research, developmental efforts, as well as trial and error approaches.

Eureka – The Greatest Moment of Bentley’s Life

“The day that I developed the first negative made by this method and found it good, I felt almost like falling to my knees beside that apparatus,” he told the American Magazine in 1925. “It was the greatest moment of my life.”

Together with his friend George Henry Perkins, professor of natural history at the University of Vermont, he published ‘A Study of Snow Crystals’ in the Journal Popular Science Monthly. His images are still being printed and requested around the world. For almost 100 years, nobody was as eager as ‘snowflake’ Wilson to photograph the beauty and uniqueness of snowflakes.

The before-mentioned publication is the starting point of the saying that ‘no two snowflakes are alike’. Which is true! Have a look at this Science Video summarizing the uniqueness of snowflake formation while providing a bit more information about Wilson Bentley. We highly recommend watching it.

Just imagine …

Just imagine how his life developed, from being destined to become a dairy farmer to being the most famous snowflake photographer. All of this happened because his mother gave him a microscope, enabling him to see and discover microscopic worlds and the intricate beauty of frozen water. Those turning points in one person’s life are always fantastic, and it is impressive to see how their lives changed due to this one particular moment in time.

What was your Wilson-Bentley-esque Moment?

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