Pattern pending: Stephen Wolfram takes his 'new kind of science' to Washington. Credit: M. TEMCHINE

For the past 15 months, mathematician Stephen Wolfram has been packing university lecture halls with people eager to hear about his 'new kind of science'. But on 4 September, he addressed an audience unlike any he's had before — a US Senate subcommittee, whose chairman has expressed an interest in providing public funding for his work.

Wolfram made waves in May 2002, when he published A New Kind of Science. The book describes how feeding simple sets of rules into a computer can generate remarkably complex patterns. The author theorizes that these results can be used to describe virtually everything from the patterns on mollusc shells to the fabric of space-time (see Nature 417, 216–218; 2002). Scientists, however, have given the book mixed reviews.

To date, Wolfram has privately funded his research and the publication of his book. But the publicity surrounding A New Kind of Science has caught the attention of Sam Brownback (Republican, Kansas), who chairs the Senate commerce committee's subcommittee on science, technology and space.

Brownback is one of the more conservative members of the Senate, and has clashed with scientists on issues such as embryonic-stem-cell research and the teaching of creationism in the classroom. He was the only senator to attend the hour-long hearing, at which Wolfram explained why he believes that his computer-generated patterns might benefit the fields of physics, biology and nanotechnology.

It is unclear which US research agency might be responsible for following this up, but Brownback seems committed to finding a home for Wolfram's research. “It seems like this work could have enormous potential,” he told Nature after the hearing. “If it's right, then the government should be investing in it.”