Snowflake selfies: A low-cost, high-impact approach toward student engagement in scientific research (with their smartphones)

Matthew R. Kumjian, Kevin A. Bowley, Paul M. Markowski, Kelly Lombardo, Zachary J. Lebo, Pavlos Kollias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


An engaged scholarship project called "Snowflake Selfies"was developed and implemented in an upper-level undergraduate course at The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). During the project, students conducted research on snow using low-cost, low-tech instrumentation that may be readily implemented broadly and scaled as needed, particularly at institutions with limited resources. During intensive observing periods (IOPs), students measured snowfall accumulations, snow-to-liquid ratios, and took microscopic photographs of snow using their smartphones. These observations were placed in meteorological context using radar observations and thermodynamic soundings, helping to reinforce concepts from atmospheric thermodynamics, cloud physics, radar, and mesoscale meteorology courses. Students also prepared a term paper and presentation using their datasets/photographs to hone communication skills. Examples from IOPs are presented. The Snowflake Selfies project was well received by undergraduate students as part of the writing-intensive course at Penn State. Responses to survey questions highlight the project's effectiveness at engaging students and increasing their enthusiasm for the semester-long project. The natural link to social media broadened engagement to the community level. Given the successes at Penn State, we encourage Snowflake Selfies or similar projects to be adapted or implemented at other institutions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E917-E935
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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