Rain’s Dirty Little Secret

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Want to learn more about the topic in this week’s video? Here are some key words/phrases to get your googling started:
– Condensation – the process of water molecules glomming together into visible droplets
– Condensation nuclei – tiny solid particles that water vapor condenses onto (also called aerosols)
– Homogenous condensation – condensation without any kind of condensation nuclei
– Dew point – the temperature below which water vapor starts to condense into droplets
– Heterogenous condensation – condensation that happens with the help of condensation nuclei
– Critical Embryo – a cluster of water molecules big enough to easily gain more molecules
– Cloud chamber – a cool thing to check out if you want to build a particle detector at home (it involves pumping a bunch of water vapor into pure air; when a particle passes through, it leaves a streak of ionized water molecules that, in super-saturated air, can act as condensation nuclei!)


Knupp, K. Surface Thermodynamics and Nucleation of Water Droplets and Ice Crystals. Lecture Notes. Retrieved March 2015 from:

McDonald, JE (1962) Homogenous Nucleation of Vapor Condensation. I. Thermodynamic Aspects. Institute of Atmospheric Physics, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

McDonald, JE (1962) Homogenous Nucleation of Vapor Condensation. II. Kinetic Aspects. Institute of Atmospheric Physics, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.

Image Credits:

Dewdrops – David Saddler

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