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An Introduction

taking his first breath. Most would agree that our

conception of maths in its basic form has been derived as a

means to describe aspects of our environment as an element

of a much larger sociological agreement. So to say that

“maths exists in nature” is as redundant a statement as

saying that humans themselves exist in nature. However in

researching this topic one can not help but marvel at how

well ‘mathematics’ corresponds with the grand scheme of

things and ultimately makes one wonder what came first; an

issue of the chicken or the egg as it were.

is factual in its tangibility. It is this outstanding quality that

makes the use of maths in nature a tremendous resource for

the classroom. Too often we force mathematical concepts on

the basis of blind faith, while examples such as these are

quite literally all around us. Demonstrating maths in nature

is an ideal approach for illustrating what many students will

regard as arbitrary information and should be utilized by all

teachers as a tool to increase learner interest. When maths is

witnessed in its purest form the realization can be truly

amazing. Sometimes the application of mathematics can

seem to be separate from the natural world but in actual

fact when we take the time, math can be seen all around us.

The majority of our knowledge of mathematics and modern

science is strictly based and supported on our observations

of our environment. What was once seen as the randomness

of nature is now distinguished as the intricate applications of

mathematics and illustrates the complexities of our natural

world.

Symmetry

apply to an abstract, perfect world. This perfect world of

mathematics is reflected in the imperfect physical world,

such as in the approximate symmetry of a face divided by an

axis along the nose. More symmetrical faces are generally

regarded as more aesthetically pleasing.

flower, from each dark purple line on the petal to an

imaginary line bisecting the angle between the opposing

purple lines. The lines also trace the shape of a star.

consider a face beautiful when the features are symmetrically

arranged.

well. The planets, with slight variation due to chance, exhibit

radial symmetry. Snowflakes also provide an example of radial

symmetry. All snowflakes show a hexagonal symmetry around

an axis that runs perpendicular to their face. Every one sixth of

a revolution around this axis produces a design identical to the

original. The fact that all snowflakes have this sort of

symmetry is due to the way water molecules arrange

themselves when ice forms. It's a reminder that symmetry is

part of the structure of the world around us.

Shapes

• Perfect

Earth is the perfect shape for minimizing the pull of

gravity on its outer edges - a sphere (although

centrifugal force from its spin actually makes it an

oblate spheroid, flattened at top and bottom).

Geometry is the branch of maths that describes such

shapes.

• Polyhedra

use of space. Hexagons fit most closely together without

any gaps; so hexagonal wax cells are what bees create to

store their eggs and larvae. Hexagons are six-sided

polygons, closed, 2-dimensional, many-sided figures with

straight edges.

• Cones

which depends on the runniness (viscosity) of the lava.

Fast, runny lava forms flatter cones; thick, viscous lava

forms steep-sided cones. Cones are 3-dimensional solids

whose volume can be calculated by 1/3 x area of base x

height.

Parallel lines

converging nor diverging. These parallel dunes in the

Australian desert aren't perfect - the physical world

rarely is.

random environment into squares, rectangles and

bisected rhomboids, and impinging on the natural

diversity of the environment.

Pi

Cappadoccia, central Turkey during the 2006 total

eclipse, holds that perfect relationship where the

circumference divided by the diameter equals pi. First

devised (inaccurately) by the Egyptians and Babylonians,

the infinite decimal places of pi (approximately

3.1415926...) have been calculated to billions of decimal

places.

Fractals

tree, show the relationship where similarity holds at

smaller and smaller scales. This fractal nature mimics

mathematical fractal shapes where form is repeated at

every scale. Fractals, such as the famous Mandelbrot set,

cannot be represented by classical geometry.

Occurring Fractals

(including plants, rivers, galaxies, clouds, weather, population

patterns, stocks, video feedback, crystal growth, etc.)

the natural world and the patterns we observe in it.

Many things previously called chaos are now known to follow

subtle subtle fractal laws of behavior. So many things turned

out to be fractal that the word "chaos" itself (in operational

science) had redefined, or actually for the First time Formally

Defined as following inherently unpredictable yet generally

deterministic rules based on nonlinear iterative

equations. Fractals are unpredictable in specific details yet

deterministic when viewed as a total pattern - in many ways

this reflects what we observe in the small details & total

pattern of life in all its physical and mental varieties.

The idea of zero as a placeholder, eg to distinguish 303

from 33, developed in both Indian and Babylonian

cultures. Three Indian mathematicians, Brahmagupta

(about 628 AD), Mahavira (about 850 AD) and Bháskara

(1114- about 1185 AD), are credited with defining zero as

a number, and defining the rules for subtracting, adding,

multiplying and dividing by zero.

sequence approaches a number known as the golden

ratio, or phi (=1.618033989...). The aesthetically appealing

ratio is found in much human architecture and plant life.

A Golden Spiral formed in a manner similar to the

Fibonacci spiral can be found by tracing the seeds of a

sunflower from the centre outwards.

Geometric sequence

doubling their population in size after as little as 40

minutes. A geometric sequence such as this, where each

number is double the previous number [or f(n+1) = 2 f(n)]

produces a rapid increase in the population in a very

short time

Uniqueness, proofs

Proofs are the tools used to find the rules that define

maths. One such proof is by counter example - find one

duplicated snowflake, like Nancy Knight of the US

National Center for Atmospheric Research did while

studying cloud climatology, and the theory of snowflake

uniqueness disappears into the clouds. The theory may

have originated from Wilson Bentley's extraordinary feat

photographing over 5000 snowflakes in the 1930s. He

found no two alike.

Infinity

natural numbers, 1,2,3..., etc., is infinite. The set of all

numbers between one and zero is also infinite - is one

infinite set larger than the other? The deep questions of

maths can leave you feeling very small in a vast universe.

Fibonacci sequence

travelled Italian who introduced the concept of zero and

the Hindu-Arabic numeral system to Europe in 1200AD.

He also described the Fibonacci sequence of numbers

using an idealised breeding population of rabbits. Each

rabbit pair produces another pair every month, taking

one month first to mature, and giving the sequence

0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,... Each number in the sequence is the sum

of the previous two.

Fibonacci spiral

If you construct a series of squares with lengths equal to

the Fibonacci numbers (1,1,2,3,5, etc) and trace a line

through the diagonals of each square, it forms a

Fibonacci spiral. Many examples of the Fibonacci spiral

can be seen in nature, including in the chambers of a

nautilus shell.

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