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Monday, September 14, 1998 Published at 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK


Psychedelic search for order in chaos

Computer fractal image - similar patterns found in nature

European scientists have begun to look for so-called fractals in the order and chaos of nature.

The strangely psychedelic images have become a symbol of the mystery of numbers and the order emerging from chaos.

Fractals - a class of mathematical models - are everywhere.

Take a magnified look at some rocks and you will find each one resembles a tiny mountain. Such structures within structures are the hallmark of fractals.

They are to be found in the timing of our heartbeats and the falling of a snowflake. Even the distribution of galaxies throughout space is like a fractal.

[ image: Fractals are the basis for nature's patterns]
Fractals are the basis for nature's patterns
The research teams will be looking in a wide variety of places: the spread of forest fires; the formation of glass and the behaviour of brain cells to give just a few examples.

A scientist involved in the project - co-ordinated from La Sapienza University in Rome with a European Union grant - said "theoretical physics has never seen such an extensive project".

One group will be looking at the distribution of galaxies in the cosmos seeing if its fractal nature can tell us something about how the universe formed.

Others will be looking at the interaction between nuclear waste stored in glassy pellets and water.

Fractals could even be incorporated into the design of road and rail tunnels. The scientists will examine the possibility that they may help to dampen noise inside tunnels.

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