Monday, March 25, 2013

Automata on the beach

I found this shell on the beach in Saipan last year.
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Its pattern reminded me of the some of the cellular automata I had seen in Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science (chapter 3) – it turns out that this is no coincidence.  The process by which some species of mollusks color their shells can be modeled by cellular automata: as the shell grows, the coloring of each row is affected by the coloring of the previous row through a small set of rules. 

Dr. Coombes of the University of Nottingham gives a brief overview of some of the mathematics behind the structure and pigmentation of seashells here.

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