FORMS IN NATURE: Understanding Our Universe

Through scientific study and understanding, we deepen our connection to the natural world.

A collaboration between Kevin Dart, Stéphane Coëdel, Nelson Boles, and David Kamp.

Gallery 1988: Kevin Dart “Science & Nature”

Light-based media

Forms in Nature

Through scientific study and understanding, we deepen our connection to the natural world.


The Zipf Mystery

The of and to. A in is I. That it, for you, was with on. As have … but be they.

The Atlantic:

Every so often scientists notice a rule or a regularity that makes no particular sense on its face but seems to hold true nonetheless. One such is a curiosity called Zipf’s Law. George Kingsley Zipf was a Harvard linguist who in the 1930s noticed that the distribution of words adhered to a regular statistical pattern. The most common word in English—”the”—appears roughly twice as often in ordinary usage as the second most common word, three times as often as the third most common, ten times as often as the tenth most common, and so on. As an afterthought, Zipf also observed that cities’ sizes followed the same sort of pattern, which became known as a Zipf distribution. Oversimplifying a bit, if you rank cities by population, you find that City No. 10 will have roughly a tenth as many residents as City No. 1, City No. 100 a hundredth as many, and so forth. (Actually the relationship isn’t quite that clean, but mathematically it is strong nonetheless.) Subsequent observers later noticed that this same Zipfian relationship between size and rank applies to many things: for instance, corporations and firms in a modern economy are Zipf-distributed.

What’s Up in the Solar System?
A diagram by Olaf Frohn, updated once a month, of active space missions traveling beyond Earth orbit.

What's Up in the Solar System diagram by Olaf Frohn (updated for July 2015)

Shape of things to come

What’s up in the Solar System?

A diagram by Olaf Frohn, updated once a month, of active space missions traveling beyond Earth orbit. Released under a generous Creative Commons licence with an archive going back to October 2010.


The Fermi Paradox — Where Are All The Aliens?

The universe is unbelievably big – trillions of stars and even more planets. Soo… there just has to be life out there, right? But where is it? Why don’t we see any aliens? Where are they? And more importantly, what does this tell us about our own fate in this gigantic and scary universe?

Pigeons are gross. They’re also wildly underrated.

Vox: Sure, there are bad things about these birds (like the way they deface statues of our own species’ great leaders). But over the centuries, their unique abilities to be trained and to find their way home have been used in interesting and surprising ways (that almost make up for their constant cooing).


A diagram of the geological time scale

The Geologic Time Spiral — Designed by Joseph Graham, William Newman, and John Stacy

The Earth is very old—4.5 billion years or more according to scientific estimates. Most of the evidence for an ancient Earth is contained in the rocks that form the Earth’s crust. The rock layers themselves—like pages in a long and complicated history—record the events of the past, and buried within them are the remains of life—the plants and animals that evolved from organic structures that existed 3 billion years ago.

USGS: The Geologic Time Spiral (via Wikipedia)

See also: 4,000 years of human history in one chart


The Geologic Time Spiral

This timeline of evolution of life represents the current scientific theory outlining the major events during the development of life on planet Earth. […] The similarities between all present day organisms indicate the presence of a common ancestor from which all known species, living and extinct, have diverged through the process of evolution. Although more than 99 percent of all species that ever lived on the planet are estimated to be extinct, there are currently 10–14 million species of life on the Earth. –Wikipedia


Slow Life, by Daniel Stoupin

The most important living organisms that play the key functions in the biosphere might not seem exciting when it comes to motion. Plants, fungi, sponges, corals, plankton, and microorganisms make life on Earth possible and do all the hard biochemical job. Similarly to all living things, they are dynamic, mobile, and fundamentally have the same motion properties as us. They grow, reproduce, spread, move towards source of energy, and away from unfavorable conditions. However, their speeds happen to be out of sync with our narrow perception. Our brains are wired to comprehend and follow fast and dynamic events better, especially those very few that happen at speeds comparable to ours. In a world of blazingly fast predators and escaping prey events where it takes minutes, hours, or days to notice any changes are harder to grasp.

“Slow” marine life is particularly mysterious. As colorful, bizarre-looking, and environmentally important as we know corals and sponges are, their simple day-to-day life is hidden. We know some bits about their biochemistry, corals’ interaction with zooxanthella algae, their life cycles, and systematics. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell what we don’t know about the rest, and particularly when it comes to interaction with other organisms happening over long periods of time.

Time lapse cinematography reveals a whole different world full of hypnotic motion and my idea was to make coral reef life more spectacular and thus closer to our awareness. I had a bigger picture in my mind for my clip. But after many months of processing hundreds of thousands of photos and trying to capture various elements of coral and sponge behavior I realized that I have to take it one step at a time. For now, the clip just focuses on beauty of microscopic reef “landscapes.” The close-up patterns and colors of this type of fauna hardly resemble anything from the terrestrial environments. Corals become even less familiar if you consider their daily “activities.” — Daniel Stoupin

(via Mental Floss)

See also: Wellcome Image Awards 2015: The art behind the science of life, death, sex, and disease and other posts tagged photography.

Humans and other animals

Timelapse: The “slow life” of a coral reef, sped up

“Slow” marine animals show their secret life under high magnification. Corals and sponges build coral reefs and play crucial roles in the biosphere, yet we know almost nothing about their daily lives. These animals are actually very mobile creatures, however their motion is only detectable at different time scales compared to ours and requires time lapses to be seen.