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Nanoworld Less Chaotic Than Thought
May 7, 2015   
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Contrary to what scientists thought, the world of single atoms and molecules may not be governed purely by chaotic fluctuations. A Polish-Danish team of physicists has found that shapes known as Turing patterns can spontaneously form in the nanoworld.

The Turing patterns in the nanoworld are identical to those responsible for the irregular shapes of the stripes on zebras’ bodies, the researchers say. Their discovery may have applications in various areas including nanotechnology and materials science.

Everyone is familiar with the sight of stripes on a zebra, but not everyone knows that these are the manifestations of chemical reactions taking place in a process first described by British mathematician Alan Turing, a founding father of computer science. Turing patterns, most commonly observed in chemistry as periodic changes in the concentration of chemical substances, were until now observed only on scales no smaller than microns. It seemed that such patterns could not form spontaneously in the nanoscale world, where the movement of single atoms and molecules was thought to be governed exclusively by random fluctuations.

“Previously, no one even studied the possibility of the formation of Turing patterns at the level of single atoms or molecules. However, our results show that Turing nanostructures may exist [in the nanoworld]. And since this is the case, we will be able to find very specific applications for them in nanotechnology and materials science,” says BogdanNowakowski, Ph.D., from the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physical Chemistry in Warsaw, one of the physicists on the Polish-Danish team that has conducted computer simulations and theoretical studies on Turing nanostructures.

Turing patterns occur in dynamic systems far from a state of equilibrium. Under appropriate conditions a feedback mechanism may be at work whereby chemical reactions taking place may influence the concentration of their own components, which in turn may change the course of the reaction itself. The process leads to the formation of periodic but not necessarily regular patterns. In nature, these patterns play an important role, particularly in the formation of young organisms (morphogenesis). For example, in the initial phases of the development of vertebrate embryos, this is how periodic segments, somites, are formed in the dorsal mesoderm, which turn into vertebrae, components of the spine.
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