Photo: leopard spots. Kill The Bird on Flickr

Beyond the Enigma

Exploring Alan Turing’s knowledge of systems, patterns and codes

Alan Turing may be better known as the father of theoretical computing who cracked the Enigma code, but his interest in the powers of pattern to create and conceal extended to the sciences of chemistry and biology, too. Fascinated by the organic development of regular, repeating patterns in everything from the stripes of a zebra to the human finger, Turing formulated an elegantly simple theory that could explain how stripes, spots, swirls, rings – even limbs and lungs – come to be created by the growing body.
Simple Turing patterns
Turing did not live to see his ideas proven, and his concept of two molecules working in an activator-inhibitor relationship to ‘draw’ the patterns of the natural world fell into obscurity for decades after his death. In recent years however, research is beginning to demonstrate that ‘Turing systems’ do indeed play an essential role in striping the zebra and spotting the leopard. The Nazis’ code may turn out not to be the only enigma that Turing solved…
Photo: nudibranchs, gastropod mollusks. Chanwit Polpakdee