Biomathematics in “The Da Vinci Code” and “Jurassic Park”


Published: October 16, 2008

On Oct. 2, Frederick Marotto, professor of mathematics at Fordham, spoke at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) about connections between “The Da Vinci Code” and “Jurassic Park” and mathematical formulations like the Fibonacci Series, the Golden Mean and Chaos Theory, which Marotto helped develop. Approximately 25 graduate and undergraduate students attended.

Marotto’s speech focused on population growth in relation to the respective theories. He began by defining scientific terms such as mathematical modeling, which is characterized by using an artifact to illustrate a mathematical idea, population models, which display changes in populations over time, and cell division, the process by which a parent cell divides in order to reproduce. The basic formula he outlined to predict future population growth is reflected in expansion patterns throughout nature. Marotto cited the multiplication of rabbit populations as a prime example of this. For example, suppose a female rabbit, once matured, bore one female offspring each year. If a population graph were drawn of this rabbit community, the amount of female rabbits in the population for each generation would increase in the same increments as the numbers of the Fibonacci Series do.

The Fibonacci Series is a sequence of numbers in which each number is derived from adding the two previous numbers together, Marotto said. Therefore, the series reads as follows: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8… This mathematical principle is discussed in “The Da Vinci Code.” The main characters of the novel are trying to decipher a cryptic message: “O Draconian devil! Oh, lame saint!” and the Fibonacci series, encoded in the letters of this message, leads to the desired discovery.

This number series also “appear[s] in nature, and [is] often observed in the ratio of growth,” said Marotto. An example Marotto gave is the number of petals on common flowers such as buttercups and violets. Buttercups, for example, always have five petals, and five is the sixth number of the Fibonacci Series.

Along with the Fibonacci Series, the Golden Mean is also observed in natural growth, according to Marotto. The Golden Mean is a fixed numerical ratio often found in the distances between geometric shapes. Marotto cited evidence of the Golden Mean in nature in nautilus shells, which are large, coiled shells with a spiral shape. The distance between the spirals of these shells is always a multiple of the Golden Mean.

Famous works by Leonardo Da Vinci, such as the “Vitruvian Man” and the “Mona Lisa,” show signs of The Golden Mean in their structure. Marotto stated that the ratio of the distance from the top of “Vitruvian Man’s” head to his naval, and the distance from his naval to his feet, is the Golden Mean. Marotto said that the ratio is also reflected in the “Mona Lisa’s” facial features, like the distances between her ears and her nose. “Human perfection is defined by the Golden Mean and the Fibonacci Series,” said Marotto. He attributed this to the precision of these correlations.

Marotto compared “Jurassic Park” to Chaos Theory. While the Fibonacci Series shows how populations multiply over time and generations, Chaos Theory pertains to the idea that population growth and size are mutually dependent, but that population can only grow up until a certain point, and when it reaches that point, it will begin to decline again. The idea behind Chaos Theory is that when a particular value, such as population size, is high enough, there is no longer an order to its growth. Marotto stated that Chaos Theory is represented in “Jurassic Park” through the unmanageable reproduction of dinosaurs. Marotto quoted Jeff Goldbloom, the mathematician in “Jurassic Park,” who predicted that “tracking the dinosaurs’ growth in the park and their behavior was impossible and uncontrollable, thus leading to chaos.”

Students in attendance said that they generally found Marotto’s lecture to be very informative and wanted to hear more on the subject.

Tamer Abulebda, FCLC ’12, stated that he felt that the lecture was “confusing at first, but as it proceeded it was interesting to see how the speaker was able to connect math and science with popular culture.” He also said that he found it “fascinating to see how nature seems to be ruled by these mathematical equations.”