Duke Sponsored Meet Will Bring World's Chaos And Complex Systems Experts To N.C.

December 30, 1997

DURHAM, N.C. -- The introduction of computers has shown some scientists the way into a hidden realm where what appears random is sometimes grounded in a strange kind of order, while what looks orderly can be much more complex than it seems.

Subjects like the chaotic dripping of water faucets, the electrical activity of beating hearts, the flocking of birds, the behavior of the Internet, the extinction of species and pattern formations in shaken sand are now attracting the attention of such researchers around the globe.

Many of these specialists in chaos, nonlinear dynamics and complex systems will converge on Chapel Hill Jan. 7-10 for "Dynamics Days '98," the second such international conference to be held in North Carolina.

Sponsored and supported by Duke University and the Office of Naval Research, the three-day meeting will be held at The Carolina Inn in downtown Chapel Hill, with talks beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 7.

Speakers will include Bernardo Huberman of Xerox Corp., who is slated to discuss the dynamics of "Internet storms," the degradation of the World Wide Web's performance that results from too many people overindulging on the low-cost service at once.

Yuhai Tu of the IBM Watson Research Center in New York, is set to propose a special dynamical model to explain how organisms ranging from slime molds to birds coordinate their group motion.

Mark Newman of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, will describe new statistical methods for studying the causes of extinction, including what he calls the "much debated issue of 'bad genes versus bad luck.'"

William Wilson, a Duke assistant professor of zoology who applies the tools of nonlinear dynamics to biology, will deliver a talk on the relationship of randomness to interactions of predators with prey.

And, Igor Aronson of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, will use a "pattern formation" model to explain how shaken sand can organize itself into geometric patterns such as stripes and squares.

"I think these are examples of the direction that the field of chaos and complex systems is taking," said Robert Behringer, a Duke physics professor whose specialty is also the behavior of sand and other granular materials.

"They are moving toward more complicated systems than what people were looking at four years ago, when Dynamics Days was last held at Duke," added Behringer, who directs his university's own multidisciplinary Center for Nonlinear and Complex Systems.

Research in the field began in the 1970s, and it has attracted increasing popular attention since 1987, when former New York Times writer James Gleick published his book Chaos.

"During the '70s and up through the '80s, people developed sets of new tools and ways of thinking," Behringer said in an interview. "Now people are applying those ideas more broadly. In the process, they've discovered a whole new array of systems that require new ways of looking and thinking about."

Other conference talks will range from "Memory and Aging: Life and Times of an Avalanche," to "Nonlinear Dynamics of Human Color Vision."

Duke University Medical Center

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