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How some things grow

How mathematics allows us to elegantly describe processes in nature

April 19, 2013

In the International Year of Mathematics of Planet Earth, I couldn’t help to reinforce the idea of how mathematics allows us to elegantly describe processes in nature. In this brief post I gather phenomena as disparate as the growth of crystals, coral or lichens, as well as the formation of branches in lightning.





Laplacian Growth from Nervous System on Vimeo.  (Computer simulation of growth in corals)


In fact, the branching process of all these structures is based on the same general mechanism, called Laplacian growth, or Laplacian instability, which consists on the study of a specific way in which boundaries of certain “objects” move (in harmonic proportion).


A type of Laplacian growth.


This type of growth also characterizes other phenomena such as the two-dimensional flow of a viscous fluid in a narrow gap between two parallel plates.

The team of the Nervous System uses this knowledge in a very interesting aesthetic way to create pieces for some interesting puzzles that you can see here.


These are a few examples of how mathematics is intrinsic to nature … that make us look with new eyes at what surrounds us…


References: [1]  [2] 

Written by Susana Pereira

Susana Simões Pereira, maths teacher and PhD in science teaching and communication. I enjoy games and photography and I'm passionate for science and art, specially when together in the same context. You can follow my updates on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.