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Requiescat In Pace

April 18, 2008

This has been a somewhat sad week for science, physics in particular. John Archibald Wheeler passed away on April 13, and a few days later on April 16, Edward Lorenz died.

I first came across Wheeler’s name as a first year undergraduate student while reading James Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman, entitled Genius. All I remembered about him from that book (and what most non-physicists might care to remember about him) was that a) he coined the term “black hole” and b) he was Richard Feynman’s Ph.D. advisor.

A wonderful personal tribute to the man can be found here. On that blog, someone kindly posted a link to a series of video interviews about his life and times. Its a wonderful repository of information for anyone curious or just fascinated by the golden age of physics. Other interviews include those of Dyson, Gell-Mann, and Teller.

Edward Lorenz was a name I encountered less than a week ago ! A colleague in Lab, drew my attention to a book, “Nonlinear systems and Chaos” by Steven Strogtaz. I have only managed to go through the first two chapters of the book, in what is my first serious attempt to understand nonlinearity and chaos. Although I had heard of the butterfly effect, I hadn’t connected it to the name Edward Lorenz. During the course of this past week, this oversight has indeed been emended ; by virtue of the book, as well as the sad demise of Edward Lorenz.

There are plenty of videos out there that illustrate nonlinear phenomena, but for me personally, the following was most pedagogically efficacious (and brief):

Hap(pi) Birthday !

March 14, 2008

Today, March 14, (3/14) happens to be π day, as well as Albert Einstein’s birthday. Here’s a nice little article on π from the BBC Science section.

Ron Eglash

December 3, 2007

So has Jim Watson seen this yet ?

Watson, the famous co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, was in the news recently for suggesting that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” as “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.” The outrage that these rather ridiculous remarks educed, ensured that he quit his position as head of the Cold Spring Harbor Lab.

Besides the fact that “intelligence” just like “Africa” is no monolith but encompasses a myriad different qualities, anyone who is even remotely familiar with literary masterpieces by Tutuola, Achebe, Soyinka, and others, or has seen Sahelian architecture, or heard the polyrythm in African music, would have known immediately that Watson had lost his mind. This talk by Ron Eglash reinforces just that.