Tyndall Flowers

Ice Star by Andy Goldsworthy

Ice Star by Andy Goldsworthy

There is not much about Tyndall Flowers on the Internet but its one of those things that just caught my attention. Firstly it sounds like somebody’s name: ‘Tyndall Flowers, Private Detective’: I can imagine that on a door somewhere. Then there is a place called Tyndall in the USA that has a flower shop, and an air forced base. Tyndall Flowers though, are a name given to some of the most unusual shapes found in melting ice.

John Tyndall

John Tyndall

The Tyndall in this context is John Tyndall (1820-1893), one of Ireland’s most successful scientists and educators. A draftsman, surveyor, physics professor, mathematician, geologist, atmospheric scientist, public lecturer and mountaineer; his great strength was his ability to communicate science to any audience.

He observed structures in melting ice which were named Tyndall Flowers or Figures. These are small, water-filled cavities, often of basically hexagonal shape, which appear in the interior of ice masses upon which light is falling.

It’s curious to me that the shapes left inside ice when it starts to melt are those of dendritic flowers. It makes me think of connectivity, of the macrocosm of the universe being hidden in the microcosm. It reminds me that the shape of a molecule is utterly similar to the shape of a solar system.

Tyndall Flowers

Tyndall Flowers: Photo: W.A. Bently

Before long I find myself in ‘wonder’ and thinking about the magnificent universe and how insignificant I am.

One of my tutors for my teacher training years ago said that in my written work I had a ‘tendency towards the rhapsodic’. I was never sure then and am still not whether this was a criticism in the context of the assignment ‘A Critical Review of Literature’, but secretly I have always been quite proud of this Wordsworth-like trait.

Dr. Masuro Emoto wrote about ‘The Hidden Messages in Water’ and although he was criticised for non-scientific procedures, writes convincingly about water and consciousness. Being able to see ‘hidden messages in nature’ might be the act of a non-scientific, even delusional mind and heaven knows that poets, artists and musicians often journey to the edge of sanity and beyond to create their masterpieces.

But I am glad that I can find wonder and connectivity in the universe in something so simple as a melting piece of ice. Once you start to look, these hidden messages of connectivity are everywhere. The processes of erosion by water in a valley, echo the ravages of time on a person’s face. The shapes of summer clouds reflect the effect of water on sand, the marks and textures in the palm of your hand are a Google map of distant mountains.

There don’t seem to be many good pictures of Tyndall Flowers available online, just several research documents describing the process of making them and the scientific exploration of the qualities of melting ice. In my non-scientific way, I just want to see the pictures.

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