Unlocking the fractal patterns in cauliflower

Cauliflower are awesome. In addition to being straight up delicious, the pattern of bumps and nobs on its surfaces follow a fractal pattern. While it's most obvious with Romanesco broccoli, it's also present in the standard white stuff. And now, thanks to a new scientific paper, we have the formula behind it.

Published in the New Journal of Physics, the paper describes the analysis and creation of a formula suitable for replicating the growth pattern of the plant.

This is actually about a lot more than cauliflowers. "Cauliflower-like fronts" are found commonly in nature, but also in the lab. Scientists that use chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to grow films of controlled smoothness or composition will find that if the conditions aren't right, the surface ends up getting a cauliflower like texture. These texture are found at a variety of scales:

they can be observed across length scales that range from tens of nanometers (surfaces of amorphous thin films) up to hundreds of microns (turbulent combustion fronts) and tens of centimeters (the familiar cauliflower plants)

The researchers managed to create a formula that predicts and matches the way these patterns grow in real life, providing the basis for how they form. Read about the maths that shape your food in the article.

Photo from Jane's Allotment