Tag Archives: snow

Snow reveals the truth about crystalline growth

A Jan. 24, 2014 news item on Nanowerk has a beautiful and timely (given the snowy, frigid weather in Eastern Canada and the US) opening for a story about crystals and metallic nanorods,

This time of year it’s not hard to imagine the world buried under a smooth blanket of snow. A picnic table on a flat lawn eventually vanishes as trillions of snowflakes collect around it, a crystalline sheet obscuring the normall – visible peaks and valleys of our summertime world.

This is basically how scientists understand the classical theory of crystalline growth. Height steps gradually disappear as atoms of a given material—be it snow or copper or aluminum—collect on a surface and then tumble down to lower heights to fill in the gaps. The only problem with this theory is that it totally falls apart when applied to extremely small situations—i.e., the nanoscale.

The Jan. 23, 2014 Northeastern University news release by Angela Herring, which originated the news item, goes on to provide some context and describe this work concerning nanorods,

Hanchen Huang, pro­fessor and chair of the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering [Northeastern University located in Massachusetts, US], has spent the last 10 years revising the clas­sical theory of crystal growth that accounts for his obser­va­tions of nanorod crys­tals. His work has gar­nered the con­tinued sup­port of the U.S, Depart­ment of Energy’s Basic Energy Sci­ence Core Program.

Nanorods are minis­cule fibers grown per­pen­dic­ular to a sub­strate, each one about 100,000 times thinner than a human hair. Sur­face steps, or the minor vari­a­tions in the ver­tical land­scape of that sub­strate, deter­mine how the rods will grow.

“Even if some sur­face steps are closer and others more apart at the start, with time the clas­sical theory pre­dicts they become more equal­ized,” Huang said. “But we found that the clas­sical theory missed a pos­i­tive feed­back mechanism.”

This mech­a­nism, he explained, causes the steps to “cluster,” making it more dif­fi­cult for atoms to fall from a higher step to a lower one. So, instead of filling in the height gaps of a vari­able sur­face, atoms in a nanorod crystal localize to the highest levels.

“The taller region gets taller,” Huang said. “It’s like, if you ever play bas­ket­ball, you know the taller guys will get more rebounds.” That’s basi­cally what hap­pens with nanorod growth.

Huang’s theory, which was pub­lished in the journal Phys­ical Review Let­ters this year, rep­re­sents the first time anyone has pro­vided a the­o­ret­ical frame­work for under­standing nanorod crystal growth. “Lots of money has been spent over the past decades on nanoscience and nan­otech­nology,” Huang said. “But we can only turn that into real-​​world appli­ca­tions if we under­stand the science.”

Indeed, his con­tri­bu­tion to under­standing the sci­ence allowed him and his col­leagues to pre­dict the smallest pos­sible size for copper nanorods and then suc­cess­fully syn­the­size them. Not only are they the smallest nanorods ever pro­duced, but with Huang’s theory he can con­fi­dently say they are the smallest nanorods pos­sible using phys­ical vapor deposition.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Smallest Metallic Nanorods Using Physical Vapor Deposition by Xiaobin Niu, Stephen P. Stagon, Hanchen Huang, J. Kevin Baldwin, and Amit Misra. Phys. Rev. Lett. 110 (no. 13), 136102 (2013) [5 pages] DoI:

This paper is behind a paywall.

Nano sense of snow

According to a Dec. 19, 2012 news item on Azonano there’s a nanotechnology-enabled sensor which can identify snow depth,

Snow is the be-all and end-all for alpine ski resorts. Now a tiny sensor has been developed to determine how much cold gold there is on the slopes and how much more should be produced. The sensor is based on Norwegian radar technology and is no larger than a match head.

The processor chip from Novelda is the result of high-level nanotechnology. The minuscule Norwegian-designed silicon chip has already become an international success. Customers around the world are creating applications based on the technology.

The US-based company Flat Earth has drawn on Novelda’s technology to develop the SDS-715 snow-depth sensor. [emphasis mine] It is capable of measuring snow depth from 15 cm to 2 m with a margin of error of 3.5 cm.

The sensor is mounted beneath the vehicle that prepares the tracks. Snow depth is measured at one-second intervals. A separate application can be used to display snow depths via Google Earth.

There are widespread applications for the nanoscale sensor. Eirik Næss-Ulseth, Chairman of the Board in Novelda, envisions integrating the chips into athletic garments to replace pulse sensors that are currently held in place with an elastic band.

“We have already proven that the chips can be used to measure pulse and breathing rates at a distance,” he explains.

Novelda was founded as a spin-off company from the University in Oslo. …

The Research Council of Norway provided the Dec. 17, 2012 news release, written by Siw Ellen Jakobsen/Else Lie and translated by Glenn Wells/Carol B. Eckmann, which originated the news item. Oddly, Novelda issued a June 5, 2011 news release about a similar, if not identical, product,

Flat Earth Incorporated announced today they have developed the first mobile snow depth sensor based on the Novelda AS NVA6000 CMOS impulse radar chip. The SDS-715 provides a non-contact approach for determining snow depth on the go. [emphasis mine] Measurement range is 0.15 to 2.0 meters with an accuracy of approximately 3.5 cm, snow condition dependent.

This rugged low cost snow depth measurement system is designed for snow grooming operations at Alpine and Nordic ski resorts. Snow depth beneath the snowcat is measured every second, approximately every 3 meters at 8 kmph. The SDS-715 is cheaper than current ground penetrating radar systems on the market today. When used with Flat Earth’s CatWorks Snowcat navigation and information system, depth maps of the resort trails can be created and viewed in Google Earth.

For those new to marketing and promotion, it never hurts to reissue or send more information about a previously announced product, especially when it can be tied in with a season. Still, this is a bit longer than usual between campaigns.

For anyone interested in Flat Earth; nanoscale radar products and consulting, the company’s website is under construction and due to be unveiled sometime December 2012 (or, later this month).