Tuesday, June 15, 2010
A 1917 book by D'Arcy Thompson, called 'On Growth and Form', disregards genetics and biochemistry, providing more of a natural philosophy in a pioneering effort to explore the mathematical principles that underlie biological form. D'Arcy studied the similarity between the shapes of a jellyfish and a drop of ink, a splash and a hydroid, between dragonfly wings and bubble froth, the growth of radiolaria and snowflakes, the spirals of nautilus and mollusk shells and sheep horns.
More recently, Adrian Bejan's Constructal theory aims to explain all biological design in nature from one thermodynamic principle. The central principle of Constructal Theory: for a finite system to persist in time (to live) it must evolve so currents can flow easier through it. This idea is used by Bejan to predict the structure of trees and other natural networks, to understand running/swimming/flying, generally to think about the design of everything that flows and moves.