Stephanie Saade is a PhD student at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia. She is in the final year of her studies; she has focused on identifying the genetic components of salt tolerance in barley plants.

Fractal is a term that describes a geometric figure, or pattern, that progressively reoccurs in different scales. ‘In other words, if the pattern has a certain geometric shape, you would see the same shape when you zoom in or out of the pattern’ explains Stephanie Saade, PhD student in plant biology.

In essence, fractal patterns repeat themselves at different scales – a process property called ‘Self-Similarity’. Never-ending fractal patterns are infinitely complex and, believe it or not, present in our every day lives. Nature is full of fractals; blood vessels, snowflakes, trees, hurricanes, and galaxies all have patterns that reoccur. The natural beauty of fractal patterns has been used in art and architecture. From Hokusai’s’ Great Wave painting to Gaudi’s’ Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, fractals have long been used to create beautiful, esthetic art.

Fractal art was created in the mid 80’s by algorithms calculating fractals and representing those outputs as still images. Fractal art represents the beauty of mathematics and is hence a unique type of art genre. The fractal patterns are dynamic systems, used in maths in order to understand natural processes such as bacterial growth or brain waves. These dynamic properties make fractals important factors in the mathematical branch of ‘chaos theory’ – the idea that chaos is not random, but rather, controlled by underlying patterns. A common example of such is the butterfly effect: the flap of a butterfly wing on one side of the globe can cause a hurricane on the other side.

“I find it very interesting how nature encompasses fractal patterns,” says Stephanie. She finds the word interesting because the concept of zooming in and out of a plane while maintaining the same pattern feels almost hypnotizing to her. Although a plant biologist herself, Stephanie rarely comes across fractal patterns in her PhD work. ‘Its not a word that is very applicable to my research, unless we are talking about the problems I am facing that seem to have the same shape no matter if I distance myself or come close to them’. Preach, sister!

A word so common in our every day lives and yet, so seldom noticed. The beauty of fractals is mesmerizing and if underneath all chaos lie deeper secrets such as these, then maybe not all chaos is bad.

Except for the chaos that is the final year of your PhD. That’s bad chaos. Very bad.


Stephanies’ example sentence:

Snowflakes, seashells and the faces of your exes have fractal patterns.


Image by Aaron Burdon