In this time-lapse video, mathematicians at New York University immersed a block of blue candy in water and filmed its dissolution. The candy surface sunk unevenly as some areas dissolved faster than others, creating ever sharper and longer shards. Eventually the forest of candy spikes toppled as each “tree” fell.

The researchers were aiming to mimic the natural processes that form stone forests—stunning rocky pinnacles of limestone—such as the famous Stone Forestin Kunming, China. The formation processes behind these “tall, slender, and sharply tipped” rock spires “remain unclear,” the scientists wrote in a paper published on September 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. Though the geologic mechanisms are complex, the study showed that the relatively simple process of dissolving a solid in a liquid produced strikingly similar spikes. The scientists hope that by clarifying how stone forests might form, they can aid conservation efforts.

Science in Images is a new category of articles featuring photographs and videos from all the disciplines of science. Click on the button below to see the full collection.

Science in Images

Editor’s Note (10/22/20): This article has been edited after posting. It originally included incorrect references to the candy “melting.”