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People are talking about Alan Turing again as it’s the centenary of his birth tomorrow. And when people talk about Turing, they talk about him as the father of modern computing or the man who helped with the number-crunching that cracked the German’s top secret enigma code during the Second World War. But what’s less well known – unsurprisingly as he’s better known as a mathematician – is his one, sole and seminal contribution to chemistry.
Turing wrote a paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1952, two years before his untimely death, titled The chemical basis of morphology. In it, he laid out his groundbreaking idea that chemical reactions could create patterns. He postulated that, if reacting chemicals were separated into small reacting cells that can freely diffuse they can create an array of different patterns. And this goes beyond just chemical oddities like the beautiful Belousov-Zhabotinsky reactions. His theory was a chemical just so story that explains how the zebra earned its stripes and how the jaguar got its spots. You can learn more about Turing’s chemical connection in Philip Ball’s feature here.