How fractals can help you understand the universe | BBC Ideas


What do galaxies, cloud formations,
your nervous system, mountain ranges and coastlines
all have in common? They all contain never ending
patterns known as fractals. A classic example of a fractal
in nature is broccoli – in that the whole stalk is a similar
version of one of its branches. So cut off one piece and you’re left with a smaller
version of the entire broccoli. Snowflakes are another example. It’s often said that no two
snowflakes are ever the same and fractals offer
a fascinating explanation as to why nature works in this way – why nature continuously
creates new, self-replicating yet unique structures and how
the smallest things in existence are necessary components
of the greater whole. The term fractal was coined
by Benoit Mandelbrot who was working at
computer giant IBM in 1980. Mandlebrot had been fascinated
by discoveries of mathematicians from the early 19th Century who were attempting to define their
understanding of what a curve is. Experiments such as
Georg Cantor’s discovery that a single line
could be divided forever and Helge von Koch’s triangle – a shape that has an infinite
perimeter but a finite area – resulted in the term ‘monsters’. Mandelbrot used the modern computing
powers developed by IBM to run these monster equations
millions of times over. This process led him
to a breakthrough equation combining the patterns
found in previous monsters resulting in his own set of numbers. This would become known
as the Mandelbrot set – an infinite geometrical
visualisation of a fractal. One of the most amazing things
about the Mandelbrot set is that theoretically,
if left by itself, would continue to create
infinitely new patterns from the original structure proving that something
could be magnified forever. Fractal geometry is currently
applied in many fields. For example,
research into climate change and the trajectory
of dangerous meteorites, helping with cancer research by helping to identify
the growth of mutated cells. It’s even believed by some that the
universe itself may be a fractal and as you zoomed in you would discover it’s made up
of billions of galaxies. Inside of those galaxies,
you would find trillions of stars and billions of solar systems
and planets. And on one of those planets
you would find Earth. On Earth you would find continents,
cities and a human. And inside of that human
you would find a brain made of millions of cells in which you would find
trillions of synapses firing away. And inside of those
you would find DNA Inside DNA you would find atoms,
electrons, protons, neutrons. Deeper still you would find quarks,
neutrinos and so on and then, just maybe,
continuously deeper into infinity. Some believe that, due to their
highly complex and mysterious nature, the greatest use of fractals
is yet to be discovered. Thanks for watching. Don’t forget to subscribe and click the bell to receive notifications for new videos. See you again soon!

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