Photographer captures formation of ice crystals in stunning detail

·3 min read

As the sun rose over a bitterly cold Minnesota earlier this week, professional photographer Mike Shaw had some fun creating bubbles with a cookie cutter and watching as they turned into stunning ice crystals.

On Monday morning, temperatures were a bone-chilling 8 degrees below zero Fahrenheit when Shaw took his bubble solution and a cookie cutter outside. On his back porch in St. Paul, he dipped the cookie cutter into the solution then lifted it right in front of the camera. The ice crystals formed almost instantly.

Shaw told AccuWeather in an interview that he got the inspiration for the cookie cutter from a video that actress Jennifer Garner shared of someone holding a copper-wire wand in the shape of a star.

After watching the video, Shaw said "that was the coolest thing I've ever seen, I've got to try that!"

He chose to use a cookie cutter instead of a copper wire since it was a little bit easier to use.


Shaw creates his own bubble solution by mixing a cup of water, two tablespoons of dish soap and four tablespoons of vegetable glycerin (or cornstarch). While bubble solution from the store or just plain dish soap will create bubbles, Shaw found that they didn't last as long as the ones developed with his solution.

Blowing bubbles that turn into orbs of ice is a simple science experiment that can turn a mundane cold winter day into an extraordinary winter scene. If the conditions are just right, this experiment can be done right in your backyard.

To start, temperatures must be well below freezing. The best and fastest results will occur when the temperature drops well into the single digits or below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Once temperatures start to get higher than 10-15 F, the ice crystals struggle to form before gravity bursts the bubble. Temperatures that are colder than 15 degrees below zero will form ice crystals on the bubble before you're done inflating it.

(Mike Shaw via Storyful)

When the air is too dry, water gets transferred into the surrounding atmosphere and pops the bubble faster. Days when the humidity is higher allow the bubble to survive for a longer period of time.

Lastly, no wind or breeze is ideal, but that isn't always achievable outside during the winter.

"A lot of people often do this in their garage," Shaw says "It's freezing cold and they can shut the garage door so there's no wind. They then set up their lighting and can get really creative."

While the cold weather might not be for everyone, photos and experiments like these serve as a reminder that truly wonderful things can come out of less-than-ideal weather.

"Nature is one of these things that is so easy to experience," Shaw says. "It's free; it's right outside your front door. Whether you live in the city or rural areas or suburban areas, there's so many things to see."

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