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Probing the Complexities of Choatic Systems
May 16, 2008

Understanding the dynamics of large, chaotic systems, such as weather and climate, is the goal of Virginia Tech College of Engineering researcher Dr. Mark Paul, who has received a $400,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award to support his research.

“Despite their importance in many areas of engineering and science, nonequilibrium systems – systems driven out of equilibrium – remain difficult to analyze, control, design, and predict,” Dr. Paul said.

The difficulty in understanding these systems arises because of the complex way that their spatiotemporal patterns (variations in both space and time) affect the transport of energy and matter, Dr. Paul said. A particular challenge is to understand spatiotemporal chaos, a commonly observed behavior of nonequilibrium systems in which properties of the systems evolve chaotically in space and time.

Each CAREER project has an educational component. Dr. Paul will work with the Virginia Tech Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity to develop hands-on numerical experiments that will enable pre-college students to explore chaotic dynamics for themselves. The numerical experiments, to be made available on a website, will demonstrate the difficulty of weather prediction, for example, and the scientific meaning of the popular phrase, “the butterfly effect.” Dr. Paul also is developing a new graduate course on spatiotemporal chaos.

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