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For centuries, symmetry has remained a subject thats fascinated

philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, artists, architects, and physicists.


The ancient Greeks were downright obsessed with itand even today we
tend to side with symmetry in everything from planning our furniture layout to
styling our hair.
No ones sure why its such an ever-present property, or why the mathematics
behind it seem to permeate everything around usbut the ten examples
below prove that its definitely there.
Just be warned: once youre aware of it, youll likely have an uncontrollable
urge to look for symmetry in everything you see.

10
Romanesco Broccoli

You may have passed by romanesco broccoli in the grocery store and
assumed, because of its unusual appearance, that it was some type of
genetically modified food. But its actually just one of the many instances of
fractal symmetry in naturealbeit a striking one.
In geometry, a fractal is a complex pattern where each part of a thing has the
same geometric pattern as the whole. So with romanseco broccoli, each floret
presents the same logarithmic spiral as the whole head (just miniaturized).
Essentially, the entire veggie is one big spiral composed of smaller, cone-like
buds that are also mini-spirals.
Incidentally, romanesco is related to both broccoli and cauliflower; although its
taste and consistency are more similar to cauliflower. Its also rich in
carotenoids and vitamins C and K, which means that it makes both a healthy
and mathematically beautiful addition to our meals.

9
Honeycomb

Not only are bees stellar honey producersit seems they also have a knack
for geometry. For thousands of years, humans have marveled at the perfect
hexagonal figures in honeycombs and wondered how bees can instinctively
create a shape humans can only reproduce with a ruler and compass. The
honeycomb is a case of wallpaper symmetry, where a repeated pattern covers
a plane (e.g. a tiled floor or a mosaic).
How and why do bees have a hankering for hexagons? Well, mathematicians
believe that it is the perfect shape to allow bees to store the largest possible
amount of honey while using the least amount of wax. Other shapes, like
circles for instance, would leave a gap between the cells since they dont fit
together exactly.
Other observers, who have less faith in the ingenuity of bees, think the
hexagons form by accident. In other words, the bees simply make circular

cells and the wax naturally collapses into the form of a hexagon. Either way,
its all a product of nature and its pretty darn impressive.

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Sunflowers

Sunflowers boast radial symmetry and an interesting type of numerical


symmetry known as the Fibonacci sequence. The Fibonacci sequence is 1, 2,
3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 24, 55, 89, 144, and so on (each number is determined by
adding the two preceding numbers together).
If we took the time to count the number of seed spirals in a sunflower, wed
find that the amount of spirals adds up to a Fibonacci number. In fact, a great
many plants (including romanesco broccoli) produce petals, leaves, and

seeds in the Fibonacci sequence, which is why its so hard to find a four-leaf
clover.
Counting spirals on sunflowers can be difficult, so if you want to test this
principle yourself, try counting the spirals on bigger things like pinecones,
pineapples, and artichokes.
But why do sunflowers and other plants abide by mathematical rules? Like the
hexagonal patterns in a beehive, its all a matter of efficiency. For the sake of
not getting too technical, suffice it to say that a sunflower can pack in the most
seeds if each seed is separated by an angle thats an irrational number.
As it turns out, the most irrational number is something known as the golden
ratio, or Phi, and it just so happens that if we divide any Fibonacci or Lucas
number by the preceding number in the sequence we get a number close to
Phi (1.618033988749895 . . .) So, for any plant following the Fibonacci
sequence, there should be an angle that corresponds to Phi (the golden
angle) between each seed, leaf, petal, or branch.

7
Nautilus Shell

In addition to plants, some animals, like the nautilus, exhibit Fibonacci


numbers. For instance, the shell of a nautilus is grown in a Fibonacci spiral.
The spiral occurs because of the shells attempt to maintain the same
proportional shape as it grows outward. In the case of the nautilus, this growth
pattern allows it to maintain the same shape throughout its whole life (unlike
humans, whose bodies change proportion as they age).
As is often the case, there are exceptions to the ruleso not every nautilus
shell makes a Fibonacci spiral. But they all adhere to some type of logarithmic
spiral. And before you start thinking that these cephalopods could have kicked
your butt in math class, remember that theyre not consciously aware of how
their shells are growing, and are simply benefiting from an evolutionary design
that lets the mollusk grow without changing shape.

6
Animals

Most animals have bilateral symmetrywhich means that they can be split
into two matching halves, if they are evenly divided down a center line. Even
humans possess bilateral symmetry, and some scientists believe that a
persons symmetry is the most important factor in whether we find them
physically beautiful or not. In other words, if you have a lopsided face, youd
better hope you have a lot of other redeeming qualities.
One animal might be considered to have taken the whole symmetry-to-attracta-mate thing too far; and that animal is the peacock. Darwin was positively
peeved with the bird, and wrote in an 1860 letter that The sight of a feather in
a peacocks tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!
To Darwin, the tail seemed burdensome and didnt make evolutionary sense
since it didnt fit his survival of the fittest theory. He remained furious until he

came up with the theory of sexual selection, which asserts that animals
develop certain features to increase their chances of mating. Apparently
peacocks have the sexual selection thing down pat, since they are sporting a
variety of adaptations to attract the ladies, including bright colors, a large size,
and symmetry in their body shape and in the repeated patterns of their
feathers.

5
Spider Webs

There are around 5,000 types of orb web spiders, and all create nearly perfect
circular webs with almost equidistant radial supports coming out of the middle
and a spiral woven to catch prey. Scientists arent entirely sure why orb
spiders are so geometry inclined since tests have shown that orbed webs
dont ensnare food any better than irregularly shaped webs.

Some scientists theorize that the orb webs are built for strength, and the radial
symmetry helps to evenly distribute the force of impact when prey hits the
web, resulting in less rips in the thread. But the question remains: if it really is
a better web design, then why arent all spiders utilizing it? Some non-orb
spiders seem to have the capacity, and just dont seem to be bothered.
For instance, a recently discovered spider in Peru constructs the individual
pieces of its web in exactly the same size and length (proving its ability to
measure), but then it just slaps all these evenly sized pieces into a
haphazard web with no regularity in shape. Do these Peruvian spiders know
something the orb spiders dont, or have they not discovered the value in
symmetry?

4
Crop Circles
Give a couple of hoaxers a board, some string, and the cloak of darkness, and
it turns out that people are pretty good at making symmetrical shapes too. In
fact, its because of crop circles incredible symmetries and complexities of
design that, even after human crop-circle-makers have come forward and
demonstrated their skills, many people still believe only space aliens are
capable of such a feat.
Its possible that there has been a mixture of human and alien-made crop
circles on earthyet one of the biggest hints that they are all man-made is
that theyre getting progressively more complicated. Its counter-intuitive to
think that aliens would make their messages more difficult to decipher, when
we didnt even understand the first ones. Its a bit more likely that people are
learning from each other through example, and progressively making their
circles more involved.

No matter where they come from, crop circles are cool to look at, mainly
because theyre so geometrically impressive. Physicist Richard Taylor did a
study on crop circles and discoveredin addition to the fact that about one is
created on earth per nightthat most designs display a wide variety of
symmetry and mathematical patterns, including fractals and Fibonacci spirals.

3
Snowflakes

Even something as tiny as a snowflake is governed by the laws of order, as


most snowflakes exhibit six-fold radial symmetry with elaborate, identical

patterns on each of its arms. Understanding why plants and animals opt for
symmetry is hard enough to wrap our brains around, but inanimate objects
how on earth did they figure anything out?
Apparently, it all boils down to chemistry; and specifically, how water
molecules arrange themselves as they solidify (crystallize). Water molecules
change to a solid state by forming weak hydrogen bonds with each other.
These bonds align in an ordered arrangement that maximizes attractive forces
and reduces repulsive ones, which happens to form the overall hexagonal
shape of the snowflake. But as were all aware, no two snowflakes are alike
so how is it that a snowflake is completely symmetrical with itself, while not
matching any other snowflake?
Well, as each snowflake makes its descent from the sky it experiences unique
atmospheric conditions, like humidity and temperature, which effect how the
crystals on the flake grow. All the arms of the flake go through the same
conditions and consequently crystallize in the same way each arm an exact
copy of the other. No snowflake has the exact same experience coming down
and therefore they all look slightly different from one another.

2
Milky Way Galaxy

As weve seen, symmetry and mathematical patterns exist almost everywhere


we lookbut are these laws of nature limited to our planet alone? Apparently
not. Having recently discovered a new section on the edges of the Milky Way
Galaxy, astronomers now believe that the galaxy is anear-perfect mirror
image of itself. Based on this new information, scientists are more confident in
their theory that the galaxy has only two major arms: the Perseus and the
Scutum-Centaurus.
In addition to having mirror symmetry, the Milky Way has another incredible
designsimilar to nautilus shells and sunflowerswhereby each arm of the
galaxy represents a logarithmic spiral beginning at the center of the galaxy
and expanding outwards.

1
Sun-Moon Symmetry

With the sun having a diameter of 1.4 million kilometers and the Moon having
a diameter of a mere 3,474 kilometers, it seems almost impossible that the
moon is able to block the suns light and give us around five solar eclipses
every two years.
How does it happen? Coincidentally, while the suns width is about four
hundred times larger than that of the moon, the sun is also about four hundred
times further away. The symmetry in this ratio makes the sun and the moon
appear almost the same size when seen from Earth, and therefore makes it
possible for the moon to block the sun when the two are aligned.

Of course, the Earths distance from the sun can increase during its orbitand
when an eclipse occurs during this time, we see an annular, or ring, eclipse,
because the sun isnt entirely concealed. But every one to two years,
everything is in precise alignment, and we can witness the spectacular event
known as a total solar eclipse.
Astronomers arent sure how common this symmetry is between other
planets, suns, and moons, but they think its pretty rare. Even so, we shouldnt
suppose were particularly special, since it all seems to be a matter of chance.
For instance, every year the moon drifts around four centimeters further away
from Earth, which means that billions of years ago, every solar eclipse would
have been a total eclipse.
If things keep going the way they are, total eclipses will eventually disappear,
and this will even be followed by the disappearance of annular eclipses (if the
planet lasts that long). So it appears that were simply in the right place at the
right time to witness this phenomenon. Or are we? Some theorize that this
sun-moon symmetry is the special factor which makes our life on Earth
possible.

4. Taj Mahal
Most people will never interact with either the GP-B sphere or the silicon-28
kilogram sphere. But they can interact with a phenomenally symmetrical
structure if they take a trip to India. The Taj Mahal was built as a mausoleum
for emperor Shah Jahan to entomb his wife Mahal, who died during childbirth.
Jahan wanted the building to represent harmonious relationships, and asked
for the architect to design something bilaterally symmetrical. The result is a
building that includes symmetrical details from the large-scale plan all the way
down to decorative details.

The Taj Mahal is often cited as the key example of symmetry in buildings, but
its hard to identify the most symmetrical building ever constructed, as many
architects use symmetry prominently in their designs. For many years, in fact,
mathematics and architecture were essentially the same discipline, and
architects valued buildings that looked the same upon reflection.

TRAFFIC SIGNS
Traffic Signs

The shapes that traffic signs use are usually symmetrical.


The signs may lose their symmetry when the design is added.
Which signs below show symmetry?