Science of Winter: The man who grows icicles for a living
Ottawa & Region

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By Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen, December 26, 2016

This winter, the Sun's Tom Spears looks at snow and ice and wildlife to find out what makes our coldest season tick. It's a series we call The Science of Winter, and today we chat with a man who's still wrestling with why the tiniest pinch of salt changes the shape of an icicle.

There's a lab at the University of Toronto where people grow icicles and try — so far without success — to figure out why they grow in the shape that they do.Stephen Morris is a physicist, the J. Tuzo Wilson Professor of Geophysics, and he has been wrestling with this problem for years. But so far his long, complicated theory isn't enough to explain the shape, and specifically what he calls ripples on the side of the icicle.

"The reality is, we know more about the mass of the Higgs boson than about the ripples on your garden-variety icicle," he says.

He studies icicles “for the same reason as people climb Mount Everest, because it’s there. … What gets me out of bed in the morning is that these are beautiful things that we can spend time puzzling ourselves about. It’s an appreciation of nature.“I’ve always been interested in the physics of everyday natural objects you see beside the road. I’ve worked on things like washboard roads. I’ve worked on lava that cracks into columns. … If you have your eyes open for unexplained patterns in nature, the bumps or ripples on an icicle are something that jump out at you.”