Watch Ice Crystals Bloom Into Chaos

Watch Ice Crystals Bloom Into Chaos

You’re about to watch a beautiful music video that sets a precise yet delicate piano line to one of the most wonderful pieces of scientific footage you may ever see.

Directed and produced by Craig Ward, the video accompanies the haunting track by Ryan Teague, called Cascades — a piece in which “the movements of a music box ballerina are reinterpreted”.

But what really grabbed our attention is the graceful crystal growth that features in the video. To record such wonderful footage, a 2000V electric field was produced in a chamber filled with supercooled water vapours. Thanks to the electric field, which kept the water molecules aligned in order to grow into even crystal patterns, the magic happened.

The wonderful, snaking trees of ice were grown from the tip of an electrically charged needle. As each strand of crystal grew, it occasionally developed a tiny fault, which led to the branching you see happening in the video. So it went, those strands occasionally branching off again and again, in a chaotic, mesmerising process.

In fact, the process so closely resembles the way a tree grows its branches that it’s referred to as dendritic crystal growth. Because there’s practically an infinite number of ways that these kinds of crystals can grow, no two are ever the same. What’s perhaps even more amazing is that each of these trees is just fractions of a millimetre long. The cylinder of ice you see was also incredibly tough to produce. Director Ward explains:

“The rotating structure you see throughout the film is in fact a superfine glass capillary attached to a motor [around which ice crystals formed]. While the tree structures grew relatively quickly, the spindle shots would take in the region of six or seven hours each.”

That meant filming the process was itself a technological challenge, requiring four days of continuous filming using a Canon 5D to yield just seven minutes of usable footage, which was then whittled down into the music video. Phew. [Ryan Teague via The Daily Beast]