Although organisms obey the same physical laws as inanimate objects the evolutionary implications of these laws are often neglected. Physical factors influence the fitness value of traits and play an important role in the course of evolution. These are the areas of investigation that interest us.
Pattern formation is extremely common in nature, from the dendritic growth of trees and snowflakes to the stripes of a tiger. A new paper describes how a thin layer of ice in a liquid can form labyrinthine patterns when illuminated with near-infrared light. Both the liquid and ice are maintained at a constant temperature below the melting point, but the ice absorbs the near-infrared light more effectively than the water. This means that parts of the ice that are far from the liquid warm and melt faster, creating holes that can then allow a pocket of liquid to seep in and reduce the absorption rate. The ice crystals themselves thin and expand across the surface at the expense of more holes, which eventually create larger channels that pock the ice. (Image and research credit: S. Preis et al.; via Nature; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)