December 29, 2014
Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell
Finding Fractals in Nature
by Sarah C. Campbell
photos by Sarah C. Campbell and Richard P. Campbell
Boyds Mills Press
When we think about patterns, we think about AB, AABB, and ABC, simple repeating patterns. Whether the pattern is linear or radial, the order is always the same and proportions don’t change. It isn’t surprising that these are the patterns that we identified first. Look at the shapes that people have identified and recreate — cylinders, cubes, orbs and cones. Everything is symmetrical and very regular.
For a long time, these were the same shapes and patterns that we identified in nature. The near-cone shape of the ice cycle. The orb-like shape of an orange.
But not everything in nature is so regular. Queen Anne’s Lace, a tree, and a river delta have web like shapes that, at first glance, seem to defy categorization. At least that was the case until the scientist Benoit Mandelbrot started studying everything from mistakes made by computers to rainfall. As he examined a vast variety of things, he noticed another type of pattern called the fractal.
In a fractal, small units of a shape combine to create a larger version of the same shape and this larger pieces combine to create a still larger version. Not sure what I mean? Think about a river system. Water meanders through the landscape to empty into streams. These streams meander emptying into small rivers which join together into still larger rivers. Twigs to sticks to branches to trees. Flowerettes to brocolli stems to stalks. These are all examples of fractal patterns.
Sarah Campbell’s text is straightforward and easy to understand. The photos that she and her husband have taken clearly illustrate this complex but amazing topic.
Although this book is illustrated with amazing images, it isn’t your typical picture book. Share it with a slightly older elementary audience — 2nd to 5th grade — and then challenege them to find fractal patterns, staring with those discussed in the book.