Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Flaking Away

Mathematical modelling of snow flake evaporation could aid pharmaceutical design

25 December 2018

Flaking Away

As unique as fingerprints under a microscope, snowflakes all melt in the same way. Usually they evaporate – their icy prongs sublimating to vapour in the surrounding air. Here, physicists simulate how their icy spikes crumple (bottom row), forming rounded crystals as water vapour diffuses away (from the blue to orange areas here). This virtual thaw matches perfectly with how more complex snow crystals are whittled away (top), and the mathematical model could help climate scientists to extrapolate up from single flakes to vanishing glaciers. But that’s not all. The way ice crystals disintegrate has parallels in pharmacology, where similar simulations may help to design drug molecules which dissolve quickly inside the human body, speeding up the effect of treatments.

Written by John Ankers

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