Chaos (theory) rules for software developer

For years, Robarts Research Institute software developer Lori Gardi has been focused on finding the order – and beauty – in chaos.

Robarts Research Institute software developer Lori Gardi combines a love of math and art to create designs such as this one. She has even created a mesmerizing video in which both images and music are a product of her work in fractal imaging.

Gardi is a Senior Software Developer for Aaron Fenster’s Imaging Research Group at Robarts Research Institute and her day job is to write the software programs for medical devices.

But, in an unlikely hobby, she has managed to combine her two loves: math and art.

As intricate designs of reds, yellows and blues come to life on her computer screen, one cannot help but think of a tie-dye T-shirt. But as you look closer, you see the artistic design is more than just a patchwork of colors on a screen that can only be described by the equation z= z2 + c.

Using computer software she has designed, Gardi is able to create multi-layered fractal images that map what she describes as “the simplest equation,” otherwise known as the Mandelbrot Set (z= z2 + c) onto her computer.

Simply put, this complicated equation creates a feedback loop because the ‘z’ is used on both sides of the equation. Mathematically, this equation falls under Chaos Theory because the infinite results appear disordered, but in fact are not.

“Mathematicians don’t like this equation because it is not well behaved,” she says.
“These are the ones they didn’t like to teach you in calculus.

“Even when the next point is determined, you don’t know where the point will be,” she adds.

When the equation is plotted on a plane, the patterns are infinitely repeated, meaning every time a spot of the image is magnified, it only reveals another layer of the intricate design.

“Everything in nature is based on a feedback loop, that’s why you get images that look like things in nature,” she adds, noting the fractal images have been described as looking like veins, rivers or the universe. “Just like in nature, we don’t know why they create these shapes.”

Gardi has also used a special rendering of the Mandelbrot Set to create a Buddha-like image, commonly called the Buddhabrot technique, developed by Melinda Green.

When Gardi started working with fractals in the 1980s, it would take a week for her Commodore 64 computer to plot the image. Now that computers are faster and the technology has improved, Gardi is able to create her psychedelic images in minutes.

Over the years, Gardi has produced thousands of fractal images, some of which have been featured in local art shows, including at the London Regional Art Gallery, the Michael Gibson Gallery, The Grad Club at The University of Western Ontario and at a gallery in the Galleria Mall.

One of her images resembling a snowflake will be printed on Robarts’s holiday cards this year.