Moment of Science: Patterns in Nature

by Discovery Cube – February 2, 2018

Patterns in Nature

The patterns found in nature have fascinated scientists for many years. Humans have looked at the stars to find patterns – called constellations. Each day we experience a sunset and a sunrise – patterns caused by the Earth’s rotation around the Sun, which we call time. Patterns help us organize information and make sense of the world around us.

A pattern exists when a set of numbers, colors, shapes, or sound are repeated over and over again. Patterns can be found everywhere: including in animals, plants, and even the solar system!

Some specific patterns are called fractals or spirals. Fractals are patterns that repeat at different scales. This means if you zoom in on a picture, you will see the same pattern replicated, and much smaller, inside the larger image. Broccoli is a great example of a fractal because a small piece of broccoli, when zoomed in, has the same pattern as the larger head of broccoli.

Another pattern found in animals and plants is a spiral. If you take a close look at a pine cone you will see a double set of spirals running clockwise and counterclockwise. Seashells and red cabbage are also organized in a spiral pattern. In fact, mathematicians have been able to create equations using spiral patterns that explain why the world works the way it does.

There are so many reasons why understanding patterns in nature is important. People have built cities and created art based on the patterns they see. We have used patterns, like the alphabet and sign language to help us communicate with one another. But since our world is always changing, so do patterns. Next time you go outside, look around – what are some of the patterns you see?

Materials: 

  • Multiple colors of Tissue Paper
  • Scissors
  • Paper Plate
  • Pencil
  • Glue
  • Green Construction Paper
  • 1 Green Pipe Cleaner
  • 1 Googly Eye (Optional)

Directions:

Step 1: Cut your colored tissue paper into small squares

Step 2: Arrange the colors in a pattern and then glue them onto the paper plate to form a spiral-like pattern

Step 3: Cut the green construction paper into an oval shape (this will represent the foot, or visible part of the body, of your snail)

Step 4: Glue the green construction paper behind the paper plate

Step 5: Glue the googly eye and the green pipe cleaner to your green construction paper (the pipe cleaner represents the snail’s antennas)

Step 6: Admire your snail’s spiral-patterned shell – and compare it to the spiral pattern on the next snail you encounter!