Excitable media can be coaxed into complex spatiotemporal patterns, including spiral waves and oscillating tiger stripes (see Physics Today, Physics Today 0031-9228 54

 July 2001, page 18 ). Like the antics of the Three Stooges, this captivating behavior often emerges in a state of near or actual chaos. But the excitable medium on display here has been so thoroughly tamed that its handlers, a team from West Virginia University in Morgantown, not only keep the onset of chaos at bay, they also direct the patterning at will and bestow on individual waves the kinetic behavior of a particle under the influence of a potential.

To develop their control techniques, the WVU team, led by Ken Showalter, worked on a Belouzhov–Zhabotinsky (BZ) system. In BZ systems, two or more reactions, mediated by a catalyst, consume and supply each other’s intermediary species. The upshot of this chemical...

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