Understanding the Physics of Dendritic Painting: Fractals and Fluid Dynamics

Two researchers at OIST in Japan have examined the physics behind dendritic painting, a process that creates intricate fractal patterns using inks mixed with alcohol on a surface coated with acrylic paint.


The Process of Dendritic Painting

Dendritic painting involves diluting acrylic paint with water and applying it to a non-absorbent surface. The next step is to mix alcohol with acrylic ink and apply droplets of the mix to the wet acrylic paint.

The result is a set of intricate fractal patterns that resemble snowflakes, thunderbolts, or neurons. The process creates unique and beautiful designs on the surface.

OIST researchers Chan San To and Eliot Fried have examined the fluid dynamics involved in dendritic painting to understand the physics behind the pattern formation.

The Role of Fluid Dynamics in Fractal Pattern Formation

To create the fractal patterns, the surface tension of the drying droplet and the non-Newtonian nature of the fluids are crucial. As the ink droplet mix expands, it changes the viscosity of the surface layer by shearing it, leading to the formation of fractal patterns.

The researchers discovered that a surface layer less than half a millimeter thick was optimal for creating the desired fractal patterns. The physics of dendritic painting is similar to how a liquid travels in a porous medium like soil.

Under a microscope, the mix of acrylic paint reveals microscopic structures made of polymer molecules and pigments. The ink droplet finds its way through this underlying network, following paths of least resistance and resulting in the dendritic pattern.

Further Exploration and Registration

If you want to see the dendritic painting process in action, you can watch a video demonstration.

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