Patterns of Nature

These are activities to accompany the book Patterns in Nature by Pat Murphy.
I was a science adviser for this book, Paul Doherty.

Spirals and Helices

Making an archimedean spiral of rope.
Coil a rope in a flat spiral. Each turn is one rope width further from the center.

Making a logarithmic spiral with rope. This makes a shape like a nautilus shell.

Fibonacci, many plants have Fibonacci numbers of spirals.

Fibonacci Bees, count the ancestors of a male bee and find the Fibonacci series.

A mathematician builds a plant, place the leaves to minimize shading.

Counting Plant Fibonacci 1 Count the spirals in pine cones, pineapples,and sunflowers
Modeling Plant Fibonacci 2 Model these spirals


Bending metal or plastic straps

Ice balloons Salt melts an ice balloon and the resulting water carves meandering channels.


Wave activities, on a phonecord or slinky, waves in water, ripple marks.



Plant dissection, cut apart plants and search for patterns, The Science Explorer.

Strolling Among Flowers, Exploring Article by Maurice Bazin

Right-left, explore a mirror and find out what it reverses.

Right-Left beginning, explore the nature of right and left using rubber gloves.

Mirrors Right-Left advanced test your understanding of right and left using a flat mirror, a curved mirror and a parabolic mirror.


Find the shortest network joining points.

Count the order of the branches of a stream.

See You're Retina, An amazing branching pattern you've been looking through and not seeing all your life.


Packing identical balls, place spherical balls all the same size in a shallow bowl and observe how they pack together.

Floating Aluminum Coin packing, float aluminum coins in a tray of water and observe how they pack together.


CD in a microwave, place a CD in a microwave, turn on the power for 2 seconds or so and observe the pattern etched into the metal by electrical discharges.

Mud in a tray on a warm plate. Heat a thin layer of muddy clay in a shallow pan over a warm plate. Watch it dry out and crack.

Bubbles in a bottle, fill a bottle with bubble solution, pour it out and the bottle fills with bubbles. Notice the bubble patterns.

Bubbles in a CD jewel box

Bubbles in 3-D, Snackbook

Bubble prints : The Science Explorer Bubble Prints Activity, Use dye colored soap bubbles to print bubble patterns onto paper.


Paint fractals Make a fractal pattern on plastic using enamel paint.

Fractals in Nature, Exploring Article, The Practical Fractal, Mary Miller

Bifurcation, drip food coloring into water.

Scientific Explorations with Paul Doherty

© 2005

23 September 2005