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Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Mississippi


Event Information:

  • Tue

    Colloquium: Universality in Nature

    4:00 pmLewis Hall 101

    Harry Swinney
    Center for Nonlinear Dynamics
    University of Texas — Austin

    Universality in Nature

    In the seventeenth century Newton thought about the gravitational force between the earth and an apple falling from a tree, and he said “I began to think of gravity extending to the orb of the Moon.” This led him to postulate that his gravitational force law is a universal law of nature, applying to any two masses in the universe. We now know that there are three other fundamental universal forces in nature, the electromagnetic and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Systems of many atoms or molecules can similarly exhibit universal behavior. For example, studies of phase transitions in the 20th century culminated with Kenneth Wilson's theory of universality in phase transitions of systems as different as fluids and magnets. The present talk examines spatial patterns that emerge in systems driven away from thermodynamic equilibrium by imposed gradients in pressure, temperature, or nutrient concentration. Experiments and mathematical models provide insights into the formation of patterns in physical, chemical, and biological systems, as will be illustrated through examples that reveal mathematical similarity in phenomena such as in the fractal wrinkling of flower petals and plastic sheets.