Georgina von Hoppe, of Corran School, asks :-

What is the most scientifically amazing thing you have come across?

Kelvin Duncan, a zoologist who is the Dean of Science at the University of Canterbury, responded.

My most amazing realization was that complex forms could arise from simple laws and changes in simple laws. The reading of Sir D'arcy Thompson's wonderful book called "On Growth and Form" started me on this idle speculation. Thompson first published in 1917 and many of his demonstrations and illustrations are still pondered on today. One of his great contributions was to show that even complex forms could be generated by quite simple rules. And forms could be made from other forms by changing one or two of these rules. As a practical example, he showed how many very bizarre fish shapes, such as the sunfish, could be formed from a 'standard' fish shape by changing only one rule. This sort of work has become very 'contemporary' in a number of fields today, from physics and astronomy to biology. Philosophers are busy in the field - there is one M.Sc. working on this topic here by applying computer programming techniques to this sort of problem.

Another bonus is that D'Arcy Thompson's book is one of the classics of English literature that can be read for pleasure.

With the advent of computers to take the drudgery out of D'Arcy Thompson's calculations (he is always illustrated with a big exercise book on his lap doing calculations - no wonder!) the stage is set for a real advance in the mathematics and processes involved in the origin, development and modification of form - all based on his brilliant work.

In a form-based world, the nature of forms must be one of the greatest wonders of all, at least it seems to me that it is.