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Snow made from potatoes

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 12 December, 2002  (Company News)
Films set in snow-laden winter landscapes cannot always be produced in the dead of winter. Until now, expensive artificial snow had to be imported from Hollywood to obtain the desired effects. In addition, it is always a laborious task to remove the splendid white chips made from polyethylene film after the shooting is over, almost unavoidable that some of the non-biodegradable plastic snow would remain.
'With these types of artificial snow, some always ended up being blown around the set,' remarks Frithjof Bauman from the department of Materials Research and Development at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT near Karlsruhe.

The scientists offer an elegant and biodegradable artificial snow alternative made from potato- or cornstarch. The deceptively realistic product does not need to be swept up or vacuumed carefully. A lasting rain shower dissolves the residues instead. The flakes of starch are also suitable for use in shop window dressing. The window dresser only needs to ensure that the objects are slightly moist before sprinkling them with the potato snow. Thanks to the snow's adhesive properties, it's even possible to build snowmen or form your own icicles. Add more water, and the flakes dissolve.

In another case, the ICT had previously developed low-cost artificial snow out of polyethylene foam for the State Theater of Baden in Karlsruhe. The theater urgently required new artificial snow for a performance, but the existing supplier in Hollywood failed to deliver. The institute researchers came to the rescue and developed an alternative within only three weeks. 'In this case, it depended less on whether each chip looked like a real snowflake and more on how the flakes behaved when falling to the ground,' reports Baumann. So that the snow looked authentic when trickling down, the researchers also recorded the amount of time that a flake needed to reach the ground. Besides having the right dimensions, density and distribution of size, it was important that the material should be non-flammable. Andreas Kosian, technical director for the principal stage at the State Theater, is a happy customer: 'This artificial snow is ideal for our purposes.'

The white product can claim its most prestigious role to date with the filming of the pilot film for the science fiction series 'Ice Planet'. For its production, members of the institute loaded a truck with five metric tons of the starch- and polyethylene-based flakes
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