February 15, 2005

Inside the UW-Madison Physics Department.

After Fedjur class today, I packed up my laptop and walked over to the Physics Department where I was to be the guest speaker at the Chaos and Complex Systems Seminar. My role was to talk about blogging, and the audience's role was to ply me with questions that might draw out some useful material relevant to chaos and complex systems. Blogging, with all the attendant linking and Googling and ranking and so forth, is a complex system. I was to meet the professor, Clint Sprott, in his office, and as soon as I saw the place, I was getting out my digital camera. Of course, to me -- I've never studied physics -- the blackboard was a cool graphic display, reminiscent of a Cy Twombly painting:


But to Professor Sprott, these equations hold worlds of meaning that I cannot begin to think about. He is especially excited about this equation:


This explains so much about so many things. Ecology! The stock market! Friendship! It's the Lotka-Volterra equation:


If I only knew how to understand it, I would be quite profoundly amazed. Nevertheless, I love the way it looks and I can appreciate that it means a lot:


I go ahead and ask some dumb questions. Why write all the equations on a blackboard? I can understand a blackboard in a classroom, but it seems odd to me to have a big blackboard in your office covered with equations. Why wouldn't you sit at your desk and write the equations on a piece of paper?

Sprott explains that people get together in the office to talk about the equations and having them on a blackboard helps. It's the centerpiece of many lively debates.

I ask whether all physicists have a picture of Einstein in their office.


No, he says, some have Richard Feynman; some have Isaac Newton.

Time to head to the seminar, but first, let's stop in the tech room and get an adaptor for my iBook. The tech room is a glorious mess and the tech guys give me permission to photograph it for the blog:


No comments: