Looks Like “Snowflake” Doesn’t Really Mean “Unique And Special” — They Only Come In 35 Different Shapes

Remember that “snowflake” quote from Fight Club?

“Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”

Turns out, it’s redundant! Is it weird that that’s really satisfying to me?

Our popular usage of “snowflake” to sarcastically mean “unique” must come to an end. It turns out that snowflakes don’t form in an infinite variety of shapes, because the physical world has rules by which in usually abides. According to Andy Brunning of the chemistry blog Compound Interest, crystallography shows us that snowflakes form in 35 shapes, which is ?-35 shapes away from an infinite variety.

The infographic Brunning designed for Compound Interest explaining crystal formation demonstrates the shapes of 39 different kinds of water-based precipitation, 35 of which are snowflakes. Granted, those 39 categories of crystals have 121 different subtypes, but ?-121 really isn’t that much less than ?-35, in the grand scheme of things.

I guess we’ll have to change our lexicon a little bit – if you feel inclined to call someone a snowflake, make sure you mean that they’re beautiful, but really not all that unique.

Check out the infographic for more details, and check out Compound Interest for more beautiful chemistry explainers.


[h/t Smithsonian Mag]

[Compound Interest]

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