Enter the maze

Lines in the sand

A shark drawn in the sand table

Towards the end of his life, Alan Turing got interested in patterns in nature. He wondered how it was that so many unusual shapes, like spots, stripes and spirals, could appear on plants and animals. He thought the answer might be in chemistry. A certain kind of reaction, in which two chemicals can transform into one another, and then spread out over a larger area, could end up producing elaborate patterns. Over time, scientists have found clues that Turing might have been right.

An inventor in New York City called Michael Dubno doesn’t wait for nature to create patterns. He’s made an artwork called the Sand Table that draws complicated patterns within itself. The glass-topped table contains a pan filled with sand and one steel ball bearing a little smaller than a clementine. Underneath the sand is a series of motors that move a powerful magnet around. When the magnet moves, the ball bearing moves through the sand and creates complicated patterns and drawings. The whole thing is controlled by a computer program. The user can tell the magnet to draw abstract shapes like spirals, snowflakes and mazes, make words or draw animals.