The Veins of a Leaf: Revealing Nature’s Mathematical System


Nature is a great architect, and the vascular network – or veins – of a leaf are key to its structure. Mathematical physicists at Rockefeller University use fluorescent dye and time lapse photography to digitally study microscopic patterns within these vascular networks in order to better understand how nutrients flow through the leaf and into the plant’s cells.

“It really has a very well defined and elegant function,” said Rockefeller’s Marcelo Magnasco. “In the leaves that we’re looking at, we can scan them at extremely high resolution and reconstruct every single little piece of vein – who talks to who, who is connected to who, and what are the diameters and so forth.”

And understanding these networks can hold potential applications for other systems that branch and rejoin, “from river deltas to neural networks, even malignant tumors,” said science correspondent Miles O’Brien, reporting for the National Science Foundation’s* latest Science Nation.

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is an underwriter of the NewsHour.