The cosmic web and a slime mold: network patterns across scales

Is there a relation between a yellow slime organism called Physarum polycephalum, that  can be easily found on decaying trees and leaves in the forest’s shade, and the complex organization of galaxies?

Researchers Joe Burchett and Oskar Elek at the University of California at Santa Cruz created a 3D algorithm that represents how the slime builds its networked structures in space. Then, they applied the algorithm to a dataset of 37.000 galaxies, finding a rather precise representation of the cosmic web. In the words of one of the authors:

“That was kind of a Eureka moment, and I became convinced that the slime mold model was the way forward for us,” Burchett said. “It’s somewhat coincidental that it works, but not entirely. A slime mold creates an optimized transport network, finding the most efficient pathways to connect food sources. In the cosmic web, the growth of structure produces networks that are also, in a sense, optimal. The underlying processes are different, but they produce mathematical structures that are analogous.”

This is an interesting step towards understanding the laws of complexity and how they create similar structures across scales. Read the full contribution here.

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