

Stone
NAS/Newsmakers/Liason Agency 


Clever mathematical techniques are the foundation of
increasingly realistic computer models and simulations. Now, math
research is on the verge of creating tools that mathematicians hope
will cut two ways: help scientists unlock explanations to many
phenomena that remain mysterious and produce new modeling systems
that could revolutionize product development and manufacturing. All
this could be coming from fractals, those crinkly lines that look
the same no matter how much they're magnified. "Fractal" is the term
mathematicians use for patterns that repeat on all scaleslike the
spikes on a fern leaf that could be tiny copies of the fern itself.
Fresh research indicates that such recurring patterns may be
more fundamental in nature than had been thought. If the new
insights can be captured in fractal algorithms, science could gain
extraordinary new powers. The same basic formulas could be
"exploded" in scope to help scientists better understand largescale
systems such as the influence on climate from patterns of sunlight
reflecting off the ocean's surface. And they could predict traffic
flows on the Internet, or on physical highways. Conversely,
"imploding" the formulas would adapt them for smallscale use, such
as the behavior of molecules. That could save time in r&d by
pointing out which avenues are more promising. Designers and
engineers could update nearperfect models to speed their work on
new products and processes.
 

