Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Identical Snowflakes??! Possible, but Not Probable

We've all heard (and probably repeated) the old adage that no two snowflakes are ever the same.  I used to use the analogy all the time with my students when describing how each of us is also different and has our own special gifts and talents.  Well, I may have to amend my whole diatribe!

There is an article today in the Washington Post by Brian Palmer (http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/why-no-two-snowflakes-are-the-same/2011/11/07/gIQAlwZNLN_story_1.html) about the uniqueness of snowflakes.  It gets pretty technical at certain points, but according to his snowflake expert source, it is mathematically and statistically possible for two snowflakes to be identical; it is just highly, highly unlikely given the number of combinations of molecular arrangements. 

Palmer quotes Kenneth Libbrecht of the California Institute of Technology, "Now, it’s not a law of nature that no two snowflakes could be truly identical. So, on a very technical level, it’s possible for two snowflakes to be identical...[t]here are a limited number of ways to arrange a handful of bricks...but if you have a lot of bricks, the number of combinations grows very quickly. With enough of them, you can make a driveway, a sidewalk or a house.  Water molecules in a snowflake are like those bricks. As the number of building blocks increases, the number of possible combinations increases at an incredible rate." 

Palmer continues by explaining, "[c]onsider the math, which Libbrecht helps explain using a bookshelf analogy. He points out that, if you have only three books on your bookshelf, there are only six orders in which you can arrange them. (That’s 3 times 2 times 1.) If you have 15 books, there are 1.3 trillion possible arrangements. (Fifteen times 14 times 13, etc.) With 100 books, the number of combinations increases to a number that is far, far greater than the estimated number of atoms in the universe."

Like I said, it gets a little technical, but if you have 6th grader (or older) child, it's very likely that she's worked with combinations in math class.  While she's not going to be able to figure out the total number of snowflake combinations in the world on her own (Palmer shares that "Libbrecht estimates that around a septillion — that’s a 1 with 24 zeros — snowflakes fall every year."), this is a nice connection to make.

Happy Winter!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Report: Baby Max and Ruby - Birthday

Birthday [Book]
My two year old is over the moon for the TV show about two bunny siblings called, Max and Ruby.  If you (and your children) haven't seen it, it may be something to consider DVRing.  To tie in a bit of educational, non-TV activity, the book series is a great complement.  We got a copy of Baby Max and Ruby: Birthday by Rosemary Wells and Katie just loves it.  The words could not be more simple and there really is no plot (but then again, we're talking about books for 1-2 year olds), but the pictures are fun and exciting to her.  In fact, each picture of a present in the book has a bow that slightly raised, giving your child a tactile surface to keep him interested while you read the words on the page.  This is a great book for young kids, and if you're really ambitious you could extend the book to include lessons on sharing and sibling rivalry.  We found it online, but with shipping costs, it almost makes more sense to find it your local bookstore or big box store.