Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How nature's patterns form

Date:
February 24, 2011
Source:
University of Arizona
Summary:
When people on airplanes ask Alan Newell what he works on, he tells them "flower arrangements." He could also say "fingerprints" or "sand ripples" or "how plants grow." "Most patterns you see, including the ones on sand dunes or fish or tigers or leopards or in the laboratory – even the defects in the patterns – have many universal features," he says.

This image shows the pattern on the head of a sunflower as generated by a mathematical model of plant growth.
Credit: Matt Pennybacker, University of Arizona.

When people on airplanes ask Alan Newell what he works on, he tells them "flower arrangements."

Related Articles


He could also say "fingerprints" or "sand ripples" or "how plants grow."

"Most patterns you see, including the ones on sand dunes or fish or tigers or leopards or in the laboratory -- even the defects in the patterns -- have many universal features," said Newell, a Regents' Professor of Mathematics at the University of Arizona.

"All these different systems exhibit strikingly similar features when it comes to the patterns they form," he said. "Patterns arise in systems when they're under some kind of stress, applied stress."

Newell talked about the universality of patterns in nature and how those patterns are created, with an emphasis on plants, on Feb. 18 at the 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

Newell's talk, "The Universal Nature of Fibonacci Patterns," is part of the symposium, "The Growth of Form in Mathematics, Physics and Biology," to be held in Room 147A of the Washington Convention Center.

The symposium honors the 150th anniversary of the birth of mathematical biologist D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson.

In 1917, Thompson published an extremely influential book, "On Growth and Form," in which he argued that biological forms are controlled more by the laws of physics than by evolution.

Newell agrees that many of the biological -- and non-biological -- forms in nature are the products of physical forces, rather than evolutionary ones.

In his talk, he discussed how the arrangement of flowers, bracts, florets and stickers near the growth shoots of plants -- known as phyllotaxis -- is a consequence of biochemically and mechanically induced pattern-forming instabilities.

"All the lovely patterns on plants have their origins in mechanical forces and biochemical processes," he said.

Newell and his students approach the problem of patterns in plants from a mechanistic point of view, he said.

"We look at the phenomenon we're interested in, and we learn about it, we read about it, we find out what other people say about it, and we look at the experimental evidence," he said. "Then we try to capture what we see using mathematical models."

Patterns arise when the symmetry of a system is broken, Newell said. The similarity in patterns from system to system occur when the systems have similar symmetry, rather than because the systems are made from the same materials.

"The mathematics elegantly captures the fact that pattern structure depends more on shared geometrical symmetries than material properties, because the simplified equations for all these very different situations turn out to be the same," he said.

Newell said, "Mathematics is like a good poem, which separates the superfluous from the essentials and fuses the essentials into a kernel of truth."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Arizona. The original article was written by Mari N. Jensen, College of Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Arizona. "How nature's patterns form." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218083430.htm>.
University of Arizona. (2011, February 24). How nature's patterns form. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218083430.htm
University of Arizona. "How nature's patterns form." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110218083430.htm (accessed November 28, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Friday, November 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Research on Bats Could Help Develop Drugs Against Ebola

Research on Bats Could Help Develop Drugs Against Ebola

AFP (Nov. 28, 2014) In Africa's only biosafety level 4 laboratory, scientists have been carrying out experiments on bats to understand how virus like Ebola are being transmitted, and how some of them resist to it. Duration: 01:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

New Dinosaur Species Found in Museum Collection

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 27, 2014) A British palaeontologist has discovered a new species of dinosaur while studying fossils in a Canadian museum. Pentaceratops aquilonius was related to Triceratops and lived at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 75 million years ago. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tryptophan Isn't Making You Sleepy On Thanksgiving

Tryptophan Isn't Making You Sleepy On Thanksgiving

Newsy (Nov. 27, 2014) Tryptophan, a chemical found naturally in turkey meat, gets blamed for sleepiness after Thanksgiving meals. But science points to other culprits. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Classic Hollywood Memorabilia Goes Under the Hammer

Reuters - Entertainment Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) The iconic piano from "Casablanca" and the Cowardly Lion suit from "The Wizard of Oz" fetch millions at auction. Sara Hemrajani reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins