It was 1952, and Alan Turing was about to reshape humanity’s understanding of biology.
In a landmark paper, the English mathematician introduced what became known as the Turing pattern – the notion that the dynamics of certain uniform systems could give rise to stable patterns when disturbed.
Such ‘order from disturbance’ has become the theoretical basis for all sorts of strange, repeated motifs seen in the natural world.
It was a good theory. So good, in fact, that decades later, scientists are still discovering stunning examples of it in unusual and exotic places: real-world Turing patterns brought to life in locales that Turing himself never had a chance to see.
The latest incarnation of this theoretical phenomenon turns out to be fairy circles – mysterious formations of desert grass that grow around distinctly circular patches of arid soil, first documented in the Namib desert of southern Africa. [Continue reading…]