COOL IMAGES: Chaos on a Lab Bench

Science  04 Aug 2000:
Vol. 289, Issue 5480, pp. 691
DOI: 10.1126/science.289.5480.691a

It may look like flames leaping in the air, but this fiery shape is actually a fractal pattern made by shining a bright light on four mirrored spheres placed roughly at the corners of a tetrahedron. Observing this type of fractal (a basin boundary) in the physical world, rather than creating it on a computer, is rare. The image is part of the “Chaos Gallery,” a site packed with both fractal photos and computer-generated swirly psychedelic pictures put together by the Chaos Group at the University of Maryland. Computer animations of chaotic physical phenomena (which include systems such as a forced damped pendulum) are accompanied by a description and a play-by-play breakdown of the math. Visitors can even generate their own animations by using equations and computer code provided at the site.

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