You know those movies with all of the realistic scenery and special effects? What you are seeing on the screen may or may not be real, and the effects are often made possible by applying fractal techniques.

Fractals are the answer to creating irregular geometric shapes such as mountain ranges and coastlines. That is because, like these shapes, a fractal is self-similar. Self-similar means that the appearance is the same no matter how far you zoom in or out. Take a tree, for instance. If you cut off a branch and stick it in the ground, the branch looks like a tree by itself. Take a branch off that branch and stick it in the ground, and you have what looks like a tree. The smaller part looks like the whole.

Trees, snowflakes, mountain ranges, coastlines, blood vessels, EKG readouts, and many other things have fractal properties and can be modeled using fractal techniques.

To find out more, check out NOVA’s special.