Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hidden Messages in Beautiful Patterns

This week on the physics buzz podcast, scientists in Lithuania have used the science of self-organizing patterns to conceal top secret messages. Self organizing patterns are patterns which emerge from a system, but are not imposed on the system by any controlling force. Individual subunits (like the pigment cells in zebra skin, or termites in a colony) do their own thing with a basic set of instructions. The individual actions of these subunits unintentionally add up to gorgeous works of art, which can also give evolutionary advantage to some organisms. Here are some examples of self organizing patterns in nature - artwork without an artist.

Zebra stripes:

Cone shells (amazing images by Richard Parker):

The tunnels inside a termite nest:
Even flocks of birds operate under the principles of self-organizing patterns:

Here is a slideshow with a basic explanation of self-organizing patterns, and some more great examples.