Question from Saloni G., age 16, Alwar, Rajasthan, India
The reason patterns often appear in nature is simple: The same basic physical or chemical processes occur in many patterned substances and organisms as they form. Whether in plants and animals or rocks, foams and ice crystals, the intricate patterns that happen in nature come down to what’s happening at the level of atoms and molecules.
A pattern in nature is any regularly repeated arrangement of shapes or colors. Some of the most striking examples include the hexagonal arrays of rocks at Giant’s Causeway in the United Kingdom, the beautiful fractal arrangements of florets on a Romanesco broccoli and the colorful stripes and spots on tropical fish.
Patterns like these begin to form at a small scale when materials undergo processes like drying, freezing, wrinkling, diffusing and reacting. Those changes then give rise to complex patterns at a larger scale that people can see…