Monday, November 17, 2008

Promising research areas in physics


In an opinion piece in Nature Reza Mansouri argues that developing countries should strengthen their base in physics research, "not only because of its fundamental contributions to all science, but also because national capacity in physics correlates strongly with economic performance."

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The Education Plus section of today's Hindu carried a short piece about research areas in physics that are "brimming with promise," and it featured Prof. Gautam Menon and Prof. R. Shankar of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai [Caution: the Hindu mixed up the names and pics of the two scientists].

One of the areas mentioned in the article is 'emergent behaviour' in complex systems:

“To study a system, we isolate phenomena and study them independently,” says Dr. Menon. But, what do you do when you want to study the stock market? It is a complex system with a large number of independent agents interacting with each other. “There is a behaviour that emerges from this interaction. This ‘emergent behaviour’ can be studied.”

“Physics of complex systems has been made possible by computational power. There is a lot of promise,” says Dr. Shankar. As everything, from how diseases propagate to telecom networks are examples of complex systems, their study is of everyday importance. “Physicists try to find general laws that govern these systems. It is still at a nascent stage.”

It should not be surprising to learn that blogs are possibly the best forum for this sort of discussions. For example, Chad Orzel had a recent post on "What's interesting about atomic, molecular and optical physics." He followed it up with a question: "What's so interesting about condensed matter physics?. Doug Natelson provided an answer to that question here. I'm sure there are similar posts on what's interesting about other areas of physics.

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Blogs are good not only for broad discussions such as these, but also for detailed expositions on interesting new ideas. For example, just the other day, Bee at Backreaction discussed a recent paper by Mile Gu, Christian Weedbrook, Alvaro Perales, and Michael Nielsen entitled More Really is Different. Here's the abstract:

In 1972, P.W.Anderson suggested that `More is Different', meaning that complex physical systems may exhibit behavior that cannot be understood only in terms of the laws governing their microscopic constituents. We strengthen this claim by proving that many macroscopic observable properties of a simple class of physical systems (the infinite periodic Ising lattice) cannot in general be derived from a microscopic description. This provides evidence that emergent behavior occurs in such systems, and indicates that even if a `theory of everything' governing all microscopic interactions were discovered, the understanding of macroscopic order is likely to require additional insights.


  1. madraskaari said...

    pondering over the mysteries of chocolate? OK ...

  2. Wavefunction said...

    I have read the P W Anderson essay and it's very interesting. For a deep, witty and very insightful tract on emergent phenomena filled with anecdotes and jokes, I will strongly recommend Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin's "A Different Universe"