Libbrecht still does his fair share of work on massive-scale science: He also works on the LIGO project, in which a few hundred scientists are studying gravitational-wave signals from supernovae and black holes.
Studying snow crystals allows him to zoom in from macro to microphysics. "I like the scale of it," Libbrecht says. "Everyone in science seems to be working on these huge things--they're going to some other planet or building a $6 billion accelerator." Libbrecht says he likes that he can work on his snow crystals quietly and cheaply, and can make advances in the field using the simple instruments he has in his lab.