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Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"In Search of the Optimal Scumsucking Bottomfeeder," by Brian Hayes. American Scientist,September-October 2003, pages 392-396.

Certain "trace fossils" with spiral and zig-zag shapes resemblecomputer-generated self-avoiding walks. The study of these trace fossils iscalled ichnology. Ichnologists wonder what kind of animals left thesepaths. Why did the animals move the way they did (confining themselves totwo-dimensional paths, for example)? In this article Hayes also addresses thesequestions about trace fossils, which were once thought to be left by plants.The paths left by the animals appear to relate to efficient searching for food,which is the optimality referred to in the incredibly original title.

--- Mike Breen

American Mathematical Society