Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The white stuff

When I was a small child, I used to really enjoy the sight of snow in winter. And I fondly remember (as a toddler, of course!) the winter of 1962 when the UK was hit by a massive snow storm that covered the entire country in up to six feet of snow.

These days I'm not so fond of the winter and the misery that ensues after a big snowstorm. Inevitably, after such an event, I have to shovel my drive for hours just to take my car out. That's right. Perhaps it's my age, but the very thought of a snowstorm now sends shivers down my spine.

There are those, however, who still clearly enjoy the snow. And Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT, USA), is one of them.

In fact, he’s so enamored by the snow that he has developed a rather unique instrument for capturing images of snowflakes and measuring their speed as they fall.

The so-called Multi-Angle Snowflake Camera (MASC) was developed in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the university with support from the US Army, NASA, and the National Science Foundation.

In operation, it takes 9 to 37 micron resolution stereographic photographs of falling snow from three angles, while simultaneously measuring their speed. The cameras are triggered by a vertically stacked bank of sensitive IR motion sensors and the speed is derived from successive triggers. The instrument itself is sensitive to snowflake sizes ranging from 100 micrometers to 30,000 micrometers.

If you are interested in buying the camera, you will be delighted to hear that it can now be purchased through Fallgatter Technologies, a spin-off company from the university, that is, naturally enough, headed up by Dr. Garrett himself.

The company’s first delivery was made to the US Army for the serious purpose of researching into avalanches at Mammoth Mountain, which is situated west of the town of Mammoth Lakes, California.

Having developed such an innovative camera to capture images of snowflakes as they fall, perhaps now Dr. Garrett could turn his attention to creating an inexpensive labor saving device that would help clear my drive after the white stuff has fallen.

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