Dirty Drinking

What do trees, coastlines, and pineapples have in common?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Answer? They’re all FRACTALS, shapes that repeat as you zoom in. Their aesthetically-pleasing geometry inspires artists, writers, and even scientists!

Sagar Khare’s team from Rutgers University felt drawn to fractals… but not for painting a landscape. Complex fractal shapes are perfect for filtering water! Khare’s team not only wanted to create fractals, they wanted FRACTALS to create THEMSELVES. It’s D-I-Y with the building blocks of life… PROTEINS!

As a proof-of-concept, Khare used a computer program to draw endless tree-shaped protein patterns. This simulation helped them discover what concentration and temperature the proteins liked best. They grew proteins into microscopic water filters — like creasing paper into an origami swan. Proteins began shapeless, but folded around themselves to form little tiny trees!

The simulation is just the first step to growing big, strong fractals. Researchers can use the results to create REAL tree-shaped filters to supply clean water.

Ahhh, I finally found myself a tall glass of water!