Kaylee Seo / Portola 11th
“White Christmas,” one of Bing Crosby’s most famous holidays songs, is always played on the radio stations during the Christmas season. Many people correlate snow with Christmas. Although Californians do not get to experience much snow during the this holiday season, many people around the world encounter snow in some way by making snowmans, snow angels, or snowballs. Not only can people experience real snow, but they can also create man made snow which are seen on ski resorts or make fake snow in science experiments.
How are real snowflakes actually formed in sky? Well, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a pollen or dust particle in the sky,” which creates an ice crystal. Then, the new crystals begin to build on the primary crystal by frozen water vapor. As a result, the six parts of the snowflake are formed.
On the other hand, the fake snow created in science labs are done to imitate the looks and feeling of real snow. One of the experiment uses a polymer called sodium polyacrylate and water to create this effect.
According to Chemistry World, sodium polyacrylate is “a polymer made up of long chains of repeated acrylic acid subunits joined together.” Sodium polyacrylate is a very common polymer found in many everyday objects such as in hair gel or in diapers.
It is unique in that it can absorb and hold onto a large amount of water as well as to be used as a thickener. Kate Arney in Chemistry World also states that, “In [sodium polyacrylate] dry powder form, positively charged sodium ions are tightly bound within a cage of polyacrylate chains, kept close by negatively charged carboxyl groups dangling from the polymer backbone.”
However, when water is added to sodium polyacrylate, the interactions between the molecules start to change. The positively charged hydrogen ions from the water start to replace the sodium ions in the tightly organized and wrapped polymer chains. The sodium polyacrylate begins to untangle which forms a gel like substance replicating snow. The sodium polyacrylate is storing, “up to 300 times its mass in the case of tap water (which contains other metal ions that compete with the hydrogen ions) or up to 800 times the mass of ion-free distilled water,” (Chemistry World) through the process of osmosis.
Since people can’t always control the weather, ski resorts use snow guns to make man-made snow. A nucleator along with Snowmax, a natural protein, is added to the water supply for the snow gun to help “the guns freeze the water faster and at a higher temperature” according to Adventure Sports Network.
There are a couple of different reactions to real snow and man-made snow when people go skiing or snowboarding. For example, Counselor Travis replied how he “had no idea what the difference between real and fake snow was.”
On the other hand, Allen, a sophomore at Portola High School, stated how he, “could tell the difference between real and fake snow because the real snow would be soft and melt, but for the fake snow, it would still melt, but the texture would be harder like salt.” Whether the snow is real or fake, people still enjoy being in the snow during the Christmas season.
<Kaylee Seo / Portola 11th