HON297: Entropy and Chaos (Order and Disorder in the Universe)

TH, 1:30 to 2:45, 319 Riddick (not 315!)

Satisfies Interdisciplinary Perspectves requirement

Syllabus [PDF]


Course Links


From the self-assembly of viruses into beautiful (and deadly!) structures, to the chaos of global climate cycles or the clumpiness of galaxies in the universe, it's clear that the rules of nature can create both order and disorder. What causes systems to tend towards order or chaos, even though we know that entropy is always increasing? What's the difference between random and chaotic behavior? How are catastrophes like earthquakes and traffic jams triggered? In a seminar setting, we will look at such examples from across the sciences and engineering. Along the way, we'll use a variety of approaches: reading and discussion, examining the natural world, conducting laboratory and computer experiments, and writing about our explorations. Sometimes we'll use mathematics, and at other times pictures and words, in our attempt to understand how these phenomena emerge.

Course Outline

Topic 1: Random vs. Chaotic

Topic 2: Fractals

Topic 3: Entropy and Information

Topic 4: Applications to Biology and Chemistry

Topic 5: Applications to Physics, Astronomy, and Earth Science

Topic 6: Engineering and Design around Order and Disorder

Final Paper/Project

Assignment Resources

Instructor Biography

Dr. Karen Daniels received her BA from Dartmouth College and her PhD from Cornell University, both in physics, and has been on the faculty at NC State since 2005. She was a 2007 recipient of a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation in support of her research on granular materials. In her lab in the Physics Department, she and her students perform experiments on the mechanics of materials, in particular those which are not quite solid or liquid (such as gels or sand). When not doing physics she likes to spend time in the outdoors, which has led her to contemplate the implications of her research in natural systems.