Friday, January 8, 2010

Golden ratio found in nature for the first time

A couple of weeks ago, I expressed some doubt about a theory by Adrian Bejan that lots of things can be explained by thinking of them as stuff flowing through a system. I said then,
In the case of the golden ratio, he says the human brain, like that of other animals, has evolved to scan horizontally more efficiently than vertically (since we are more likely to be attacked by predators from the front, back or side than jumped on from a cliff). And he says the golden ratio (for a height of 1, a width of 1.618) is the easiest for people to scan, so we find it most pleasing. In terms of constructal theory, the golden ratio provides the fastest cognition flow in the brain.
In general, I'm sympathetic to arguments involving evolutionary influences on cognition and brain structure, but this just sounds crazy.
So I guess I should note a recent Science Daily article about researchers who have found the golden ratio in nature for the first time. They tuned this quantum mechanical thing to a series of resonant frequencies, and the "notes" turned out to be in the golden ratio to each other.
When applying a magnetic field at right angles to an aligned spin the magnetic chain will transform into a new state called quantum critical, which can be thought of as a quantum version of a fractal pattern. Prof. Alan Tennant, the leader of the Berlin group, explains "The system reaches a quantum uncertain -- or a Schrödinger cat state. This is what we did in our experiments with cobalt niobate. We have tuned the system exactly in order to turn it quantum critical."
By tuning the system and artificially introducing more quantum uncertainty the researchers observed that the chain of atoms acts like a nanoscale guitar string. Dr. Radu Coldea from Oxford University, who is the principal author of the paper and drove the international project from its inception a decade ago until the present, explains: "Here the tension comes from the interaction between spins causing them to magnetically resonate. For these interactions we found a series (scale) of resonant notes: The first two notes show a perfect relationship with each other. Their frequencies (pitch) are in the ratio of 1.618…, which is the golden ratio famous from art and architecture." Radu Coldea is convinced that this is no coincidence. "It reflects a beautiful property of the quantum system -- a hidden symmetry. Actually quite a special one called E8 by mathematicians, and this is its first observation in a material," he explains.

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