Layered patterns in nature, medicine, and materials: Quantifying anisotropic structures and cyclicity

Igor Smolyar, Tim Bromage, Martin Wikelski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Various natural patterns—such as terrestrial sand dune ripples, lamellae in vertebrate bones, growth increments in fish scales and corals, aortas and lamellar corpuscles in humans and animals—comprise layers of different thicknesses and lengths. Microstructures in manmade materials—such as alloys, perlite steels, polymers, ceramics, and ripples induced by laser on the surface of graphen—also exhibit layered structures. These layered patterns form a record of internal and external factors regulating pattern formation in their various systems, making it potentially possible to recognize and identify in their incremental sequences trends, periodicities, and events in the formation history of these systems. The morphology of layered systems plays a vital role in developing new materials and in biomimetic research. The structures and sizes of these two-dimensional (2D) patterns are characteristically anisotropic: That is, the number of layers and their absolute thicknesses vary significantly in different directions. The present work develops a method to quantify the morphological characteristics of 2D layered patterns that accounts for anisotropy in the object of study. To reach this goal, we use Boolean functions and an N-partite graph to formalize layer structure and thickness across a 2D plane and to construct charts of (1) “layer thickness vs. layer number” and (2) “layer area vs. layer number.” We present a parameter disorder of layer structure (DStr) to describe the deviation of a study object’s anisotropic structure from an isotropic analog and illustrate that charts and DStr could be used as local and global morphological characteristics describing various layered systems such as images of, for example, geological, atmospheric, medical, materials, forensic, plants, and animals. Suggested future experiments could lead to new insights into layered pattern formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere7813
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2019


  • 0-gravity
  • Anisotropic growth
  • Anisotropy of layered systems
  • Boolean functions
  • Disorder of structure
  • N-partite graph
  • Structural anomaly
  • World ocean

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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