Understanding nature's patterns with plasmas

August 23, 2016, American Institute of Physics
A schematic diagram of the spatial distributions of the pattern in three cross sections A, B and C along z axis. (a) A sketch of three dimenstional pattern. (b-d) Schematic diagram of the spatial distributions of the pattern in cross section A, B and C denoted in (a). Credit: Hebei University

Patterns abound in nature, from zebra stripes and leopard spots to honeycombs and bands of clouds. Somehow, these patterns form and organize all by themselves. To better understand how, researchers have now created a new device that may allow scientists to study patterns in 3-D like never before.

The specially designed system, called an H-shaped dielectric barrier discharge system, produces filaments of discharge plasma that can assume a vast range of patterns—in 3-D. By studying and mathematically modeling such patterns, researchers can explore what complex mechanisms may be producing nature's diverse designs.

"Setting up a dielectric barrier discharge system for 3-D patterns should greatly advance the science of pattern formation," said Lifang Dong, a professor at Hebei University in China.

More than 60 years ago, Alan Turing proposed a simple mathematical model called the reaction-diffusion model that corresponds to the change in space and time of the concentration of one or more chemical substances to explain nature's patterns. The model suggests that as two interacting chemicals spread out, they could arrange themselves as stripes, spots or other designs. Scientists have since used this reaction-diffusion model to explain a number of patterns like leopard spots, the location of feather buds in chicks, hair follicles in mice, and even the ridges on the roof of mouse embryo mouths.

One major limitation, though, is that most of these studies were confined to one- or two-dimensional experiments. At the molecular level, nature's patterns are three-dimensional.

This dot-line pattern was obtained in DBD (left), which is similar to stripe design of the 13-lined ground squirrel (right). Credit: Hebei University

But it's not easy to make 3-D patterns, Dong said. The first 3-D experiment didn't come until 2011, when researchers at Brandeis University used chemical reactions to generate patterns with Turing's reaction-diffusion model. A dielectric barrier discharge system, however, which Dong and her colleagues describe this week in Physics of Plasmas, has several advantages, she said.

Not only can this system produce a wide variety of patterns, the patterns are also clear and easy to visualize. You can probe in great detail how the patterns vary over both space and time. While fluid or chemical-based experiments can take hours or days to make patterns, the dielectric barrier discharge system does it in seconds.

The experimental system produces plasma—electrically charged air and argon gas—that's discharged through several gaps. Viewed from the side, the gaps form an H-shape. When the researchers change certain properties of the device, such as the voltage, the filaments of discharge plasma form different 3-D structures across the gaps. A high-speed camera can then record the changes of transient shapes with time.

The researchers have already produced several patterns seen in nature by a previous single gas gap dielectric barrier discharge system. For example, they've recreated the distinct spot and stripe design of the 13-lined ground squirrel. The physics experiments suggest complex mechanisms may be behind the pattern—and not Turing's simple reaction-diffusion equations.

These patterned plasmas aren't just for biology. They can be used potentially in designing tunable photonic crystal devices, which could be used as components for telecommunication systems such as microwave filters, optical switches and waveguides, Dong said. Photonic crystal devices control and channel light, usually relying on an array of materials with different refractive indexes that help steer the light beam. But by producing of plasma filaments instead—which can be adjusted and modified—researchers can tune the devices to work exactly as needed.

Explore further: Turing's theory of chemical morphogenesis validated 60 years after his death

More information: "Three-dimensinal patterns in dielectric barrier discharge with 'H' shaped gas gap," Physics of Plasmas on August 23, 2016, DOI: 10.1063/1.4960831

Related Stories

Self-organized nanopatterns in multicomponent systems

June 18, 2012

European researchers have studied a new class of self-organized nanostructures formed by the complex interdependence of chemical reactions and diffusion in multicomponent reacting systems. Project results have potential applications ...

Turing also present at the nanoscale

February 5, 2015

In the world of single atoms and molecules governed by chaotic fluctuations, is the spontaneous formation of Turing patterns possible - the same ones that are responsible for the irregular yet periodic shapes of the stripes ...

Software helps decrypt embryonic development

April 26, 2016

When new life develops, a tiny ball of initially identical cells has to form the different body parts of the mature organism. Sixty years ago, Alan Turing proposed that this body patterning is achieved by two types of signaling ...

Plasma screens enhanced as disorder strikes

October 11, 2012

A new study improves our understanding of plasma sources, a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionised and which are used for example in plasma display panels. These results revealed ...

Recommended for you

Reaching new heights in laser-accelerated ion energy

February 20, 2018

A laser-driven ion acceleration scheme, developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde, could lead to compact ion sources for established and innovative applications in science, medicine and industry.

MEMS chips get metatlenses

February 20, 2018

Lens technologies have advanced across all scales, from digital cameras and high bandwidth in fiber optics to the LIGO lab instruments. Now, a new lens technology that could be produced using standard computer-chip technology ...

Using organoids to understand how the brain wrinkles

February 20, 2018

A team of researchers working at the Weizmann Institute of Science has found that organoids can be used to better understand how the human brain wrinkles as it develops. In their paper published in the journal Nature Physics, ...

22 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

cantdrive85
2 / 5 (12) Aug 23, 2016
Who'da thunk one could use the morphological patterns in laboratory plasmas to discern what we see in nature? Oh right, Dr. Anthony Peratt's use of this exact process to discern the morphological patterns of widely dispersed petroglyphs across the whole planet to identify prehistoric plasma discharge events in the near Earth space. But it's not science, right jonesdumb...
Chris_Reeve
Aug 23, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
RNP
4 / 5 (12) Aug 23, 2016
@cantdrive85

Who'da thunk one could use the morphological patterns in laboratory plasmas to discern what we see in nature? Oh right, Dr. Anthony Peratt's use of this exact process to discern the morphological patterns of widely dispersed petroglyphs across the whole planet to identify prehistoric plasma discharge events in the near Earth space. But it's not science, right jonesdumb...


People have also used patterns to discern the face of the virgin Mary in a potato chip. That does make it a physical reality.

The paper explores the the underlying mathematical relationships that give rise to patterns that arise in nature. There is nothing mathematical about Peratt's extrapolation of the patterns he thought he recognized.
Captain Stumpy
3.3 / 5 (7) Aug 23, 2016
Electric Universe advocates have repeatedly been ridiculed for pointing to plasma physics' relevance in astronomical morphologies
@chris/hannes
no, they haven't
they're ridiculed for assigning delusional beliefs about plasma's not supported by evidence and then building a religious movement around said beliefs while ignoring empirical evidence to the contrary

examkples: the electric sun, Moon craters, Grand Canyon formation, D/1993 F2 and it's breakup at the Roche limit, the refusal to accept magnetic reconnection

need i point to more?

.

.

imagine that: Plasma in the title- eu adherents in the comments spouting unsubstantiated conjecture as fact
RNP
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 23, 2016
@cantdrive85

That should, of course, have read "That does NOT make it a physical reality."
rossim22
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 23, 2016
@cantdrive85

Who'da thunk one could use the morphological patterns in laboratory plasmas to discern what we see in nature? Oh right, Dr. Anthony Peratt's use of this exact process to discern the morphological patterns of widely dispersed petroglyphs across the whole planet to identify prehistoric plasma discharge events in the near Earth space. But it's not science, right jonesdumb...


People have also used patterns to discern the face of the virgin Mary in a potato chip. That does make it a physical reality.

The paper explores the the underlying mathematical relationships that give rise to patterns that arise in nature. There is nothing mathematical about Peratt's extrapolation of the patterns he thought he recognized.


lmao, clearly you haven't read peratt's papers.
Phys1
3.7 / 5 (6) Aug 23, 2016
http://www.ice-ag...f000.htm
OMG that guy really lost it.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 23, 2016
Re: "they're ridiculed for assigning delusional beliefs about plasma's not supported by evidence and then building a religious movement around said beliefs while ignoring empirical evidence to the contrary"

Actually, I find the claims made by this current article to be a step beyond what Peratt is proposing, for the researchers must explain how the fourth state of matter relates to genetic traits.

Peratt's logic stops short of that: He merely adopts the empirical claim that we can understand cosmic plasmas by observing laboratory plasmas, and then proposes that the 84 classes of archaic petroglyphs which exhibit high-intensity plasma discharge analogs are similar because they are representations of high-intensity atmospheric discharges.

The claim is plainly couched in empirical observation of laboratory plasmas.
HannesAlfven
1.5 / 5 (8) Aug 23, 2016
Re: "The paper explores the the underlying mathematical relationships that give rise to patterns that arise in nature. There is nothing mathematical about Peratt's extrapolation of the patterns he thought he recognized."

The thing is: We do not even need mathematics to show the correspondence. It would serve no purpose, as the human eye can discern the similarity without resort to mathematics.
tinitus
Aug 23, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
3.5 / 5 (8) Aug 23, 2016
He merely adopts the empirical claim blah blah petroglyphs which exhibit bullshit blah
@hannes/reeve
-belief in correlation doesn't mean evidence

-there is also no empirical evidence other than a belief that there is similarity between myth and plasma

there is no evidence at all whatsoever of any relationship between petroglyphs and your plasma lab, research or pictures other than your (and other's) willingness to believe in a tenuous similarity that is much like "eyewitness testimony" (subjective & a poor substitute for empirical evidence)

finally

why did you ignore all the empirical evidence and examples i mentioned for the singular belief in the eu cult plasma and petroglyphs?

where is your evidence that is the same level of reputable scientific evidence as science gave you refuting your cult's beliefs WRT my examples?

i find it hard to believe that you can have a delusional foundation and get accurate scientific results from it
see also- creationism
Maggnus
3.5 / 5 (8) Aug 23, 2016
Who'da thunk one could use the morphological patterns in laboratory plasmas to discern what we see in nature? Oh right, Dr. Anthony Peratt's use of this exact process to discern the morphological patterns of widely dispersed petroglyphs across the whole planet to identify prehistoric plasma discharge events in the near Earth space. But it's not science, right jonesdumb...
As usual cantthink, you have it wrong. This article does speak about the science. The religious mumbo-jumbo you are alluding to, on the other hand, does not.

Peratt disavows your crap Acolyte. Why do you keep trying to use his name in vain? Of course, Dr Peratt is mistaken with his fanciful, imaginative interpretation of ancient writing, same as Velokovski was, but at least he doesn't try to defraud people like Talbott and Scott do. Of course you know that, being an Acolyte and all.
Maggnus
3.3 / 5 (7) Aug 23, 2016
Electric Universe advocates have repeatedly been ridiculed for pointing to plasma physics' relevance in astronomical morphologies.

Electric Universe Acolytes have been correctly ridiculed for their unscientific approach, their use of imaginative extrapolation over observed events, and their unyielding insistence that the dogma they preach is more believable than the facts garnered through in situ measurements,
Maggnus
3.7 / 5 (9) Aug 23, 2016
they're ridiculed for assigning delusional beliefs about plasma's not supported by evidence and then building a religious movement around said beliefs while ignoring empirical evidence to the contrary
Yep!
examkples: the electric sun, Moon craters, Grand Canyon formation, D/1993 F2 and it's breakup at the Roche limit, the refusal to accept magnetic reconnection
Yep, again!
imagine that: Plasma in the title- eu adherents in the comments spouting unsubstantiated conjecture as fact
I know right!?! The mark of pseudo-science - every single article, regardless of how remotely it touches on their buzz-word concepts, is used as defacto proof of their bs religious preaching.
Maggnus
3.5 / 5 (8) Aug 23, 2016
http://www.ice-age-ahead-iaa.ca/scrp/psaf000.htm
OMG that guy really lost it.

Bahahahaha - did you notice the last thing on that page?
Please consider a donation - Thank You
Yep, that there is some really goods sciencey stuff!!

BAHAHAHAHA!!!
Chris_Reeve
Aug 23, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (8) Aug 23, 2016
http://www.ice-ag...f000.htm
OMG that guy really lost it.

A site that uses Comic sans as a font...'nuff said.
Maggnus
3.5 / 5 (6) Aug 23, 2016
Re: "there is no evidence at all whatsoever of any relationship between petroglyphs and your plasma lab"

The Petroglyphs as Records of Cosmic Events
https://plus.goog...FTUodH7q

Seriously, promoting your own garbage voodoo magic now Reeve? You belong in a loony bin dude.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (6) Aug 23, 2016
The Petroglyphs as Records of Cosmic Events
https://plus.goog...veOnline
@reeve/alfven
1- PHISHING SPAM PSEUDOSCIENCE link

2- that isn't what anyone would call reputable evidence - https://en.wikipe...evidence

3- unless you're trying to prove you are able to quote someone or make a blog, all you've done is prove you don't comprehend the scientific method or what constitutes evidence (or what source material with reputable valid verifiable evidence is)

4- if you can't produce a reputable peer reviewed journal study that is equivalent to the evidence that refutes the eu and your beliefs, then what you have is a faith and a cult of "true believers"...

you and all your troll-socks and bschitt-heads can down-rate all you want, but it doesn't change the facts

IOW - it aint science because it doesn't use, conform to or require the constraints of the scientific method
https://en.wikipe...c_method
SCVGoodToGo
3.7 / 5 (6) Aug 24, 2016
http://www.ice-ag...f000.htm
OMG that guy really lost it.

A site that uses Comic sans as a font...'nuff said.


Poor old Comic Sans has a bad enough rap as it is, let alone being associated with... whatever it is I just subjected myself to. I almost feel sorry for that font.
JimD
not rated yet Aug 29, 2016
Spatial patterns are interesting but not very amenable to the tools of mathematics. Probably the best mathematical tools I've seen utilizes Fourier analysis.
BurnBabyBurn
3 / 5 (2) Aug 29, 2016
Those EU acolytes spew a lot, but fortunately there's a one of their handy youtube vids that really makes it all clear. https://www.youtu...30m87yL4

That's the full hour seminar.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.