Mar. 8, 2015 | By Simon

Although you may be surrounded by actual icicles at the moment right now (particularly if you’re on the eastern side of the United States), a treasure trove of data will enable you to create your own 3D printed icicles in all of their natural and unique glory.

The Icicle Atlas is a collection of images, time-lapse movies and time-series data on 237 distinct laboratory-grown icicles made at the University of Toronto’s Department of Physics over a four-year period between 2008 and 2012.  Each run of the university’s icicle growing machine resulted in a different icicle whose growth conditions were measured and controlled.  In total, there are over 230,000 individual images of icicles that are all free to use by anybody who wants to reference icicles in their creative or scientific work.    

“I expect to be surprised by what uses people find for it,”  said University of Toronto professor Stephen Morris, who has been studying icicle morphology for years.

“ Of course we hope to mine the data for more scientific results, as we have only scratched the surface on that. But the non-scientific applications are just as exciting.”

What causes the formation of icicles has been something that scientists have been studying for years.  The many different forms and complexities of an icicle shape are determined by the interplay of water flow and air and water temperatures across the icicle’s surfaces.  

Morris believes that the applications for the data are seemingly endless.  Among other applications that he sees the data being used for include 3D printing (for example, one could hang icicles on a Christmas tree) or for referencing for an animation in motion graphics.  Currently, composer Jimmie LeBlanc and media artist Fareena Chanda have been busy creating an art installation using elements of the icicle data that will debut in May at the Collide event in Toronto, which will also feature music by the Continuum Contemporary Music ensemble.

Regardless of what the data is used for however, the natural foundation of icicle creation will still remain one of nature’s wonders.  

“Like snowflakes, every icicle has its own unique charm,”  said Morris.

“Our motivation is pure curiosity about natural patterns, but the study of ice growth has applications to serious engineering hazards including ice accumulation on airplanes, ships and power lines.”

Further, Morris explains why icicles have remained a mystery for so many years:

“We live in a strange universe where we know the mass of the Higgs boson, but we can't calculate the shape of an icicle.  Icicles made with tiny amounts of dissolved salt are covered with ripples that are always nearly one centimetre in size.  Nobody knows why.”

To use the icicle reference images for your own 3D printed projects, be sure to head over to the Icicle Atlas.  


Posted in 3D Printer Applications


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