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Keywords:

  • Joseph Banks;
  • Fingal's Cave;
  • Giant's Causeway;
  • D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson;
  • On Growth and Form;
  • animal markings;
  • oscillating chemical reactions;
  • Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ);
  • Alan Turing;
  • cellular automata;
  • John von Neumann and Stanislas Ulam;
  • Game of Life;
  • John Horton Conway;
  • Stephen Wolfram

Abstract

Pattern formations are apparent in natural systems ranging from clouds to animal markings, and from sand dunes to shells of microscopic marine organisms. Despite the astonishing range and variety of such structures, many have comparable features. In this article, Philip Ball reviews some of the common patterns found in nature. He explains how they are typically formed through simple, local interactions between many components of a system – a form of physical computation that gives rise to self-organisation and emergent structures and behaviours. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.