Douglas G. Stinson | Viscous Fingering

I am fascinated by how form develops in nature, and particularly how complex forms can develop from simple underlying rules. Even more interesting is how universal forms can develop from seemingly disparate physical phenomena — so that tree branches and river basins share many characteristics. One of these characteristics is “self similarity”: the branching pattern of a tributary looks remarkably like the branching pattern of the river itself, only reduced in size.

This work explores one phenomenon through which form is created in the natural world: a physical phenomenon known as “Viscous Fingering”. It occurs when one fluid displaces another, more viscous, fluid – such as air displacing oil. Instability in the boundary causes the intruding fluid to break into fingers, and for the fingers to break into smaller finger, and those into even smaller fingers and on and on. It is interesting to observe how some of the shapes so formed mimic other shapes in nature, from lightning strikes to snowflakes to mountain ranges.