Spooky Universal Pattern Captivates Math Experts

Academics ponder similarities between cities and organisms
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted May 20, 2009 5:53 AM CDT
Spooky Universal Pattern Captivates Math Experts
A mouse may be more like a city than we realize.    (©Navins)

A fascinating mathematical similarity between infrastructure requirements of cities and the nutritional needs of different-sized animals has energized a field of study that is enthralling academics. Researchers have discovered that any measure of a city's infrastructure—from number of gas stations to miles of roadway—grows only in proportion to the 0.77 power of its population. This holds true all over the world, notes applied math Prof. Steve Strogatz in the New York Times.

"Now comes the spooky part. The same law is true for living things," writes Strogatz. The metabolic needs of a mammal grow in proportion to its body weight raised to the .74 power. The three-fourths power pattern appears to be the most efficient for an organism, scientists have found. The mathematical pattern between organisms and cities seems to be "telling us something profound," notes Strogatz. "There may be deep laws of collective organization" that affect aggregates of people as well as cells. (More math stories.)

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