Making a Splash, Breaking a Neck: The Development of Complexity in Physical Systems

Monday, October 8, 2001 - 11:00am - 12:00pm
Keller 3-180
Leo Kadanoff (University of Chicago)
Joint work with Michael Brenner, Peter Constantin, Todd Dupont, Albert Libchaber, Sidney Nagel, Robert Rosner, and many others.

We study the motion of fluids, with the aim of developing a fundamental understanding of fluid flow. Our program is characterized by close cooperation among experimenters, theoreticians, and simulators. The world about us exhibits many beautiful and important fluid flows. Consider clouds and waves, storms, and earthquakes, sunspots and mountain-building. What can we learn from all this richness?

Mostly our work involves solving particular problems, e.g. 'how does heat flow in a pot of water heated over a flame'. But, in following these problems we soon get to broader issues: predictability and chaos, the likelihood of very extreme outcomes, and the natural formation of complex 'machines'. In the end, we try to ask if there is a 'science of complexity' and are there natural 'laws' of complex things. My answer is 'no', but I do see important lessons to be learned from studying such systems.