The student weekly of St. Olaf College
Manitou Messenger: Science Symposium probes chaos theory

Science Symposium probes chaos theory

By Tiffany Ayres
Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2004

Today, St. Olaf will host its sixth annual Science Symposium, "The Strange Attraction of Chaos: Advances in Understanding Complex Systems."

The symposium will focus on chaos theory and the idea that seemingly random systems actually have patterns. When fully explored, such patterns give scientists a deeper understanding of phenomena such as weather, brain activity and disease evolution. Chaos theory focuses on reading these patterns, trying to explain them and finding the limits of their use.

"Chaos theory application is very recent. It's really in the 1970s that seminal papers were being published and only since the 1980s that applications have been explored," Associate Biology Professor Charles E. Umb-anhowar, Jr. said. "It's amazing how patterns can come out of something when it looks like nothing is there."

Symposium events begin at 9:00 a.m. in the Crossroads of Buntrock Commons with an informal poster viewing. The introduction will start at 2:00 p.m. in Science Center 280.

Larry S. Liebovitch, from Florida Atlantic State, will speak about chaos theory and its general applications at 2:15 p.m. Science Center 280. Walter Freeman, from University of California Berkeley, will speak on neural biology and brain waves at 3:30 p.m. in Science Center 280. Jim Hanson, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will speak on weather and its prediction using chaos theory at 7:30 p.m. in Science Center 280 to close the symposium.

Umbanhowar said that the guest lectures will be very visual and graphically interesting. "It's exciting that the speakers are all interdisciplinary in their fields," Umbanhowar said. "Theyre using the same conceptual tool to go after different problems."

At 4:45 p.m. in the Crossroads of Buntrock Commons, symposium participants will present their posters in a formal session. Students will explain their work, some of which has been ongoing for two to three years. Nearly 70 students with 46 posters of topics ranging through all the science and math departments will participate.

The idea behind the poster presentation part of the symposium is teaching students how to communicate science and their ideas. Poster sessions are a common way for scientists at conferences to communicate their ideas to one another and they are a valuable tool in the field. Um-banhowar recommended asking the student participants why they chose their topic, how they did their research, and what their project is about as a way to get the most out of the poster session.

The symposium is not only aimed at science students or those interested in science but at a more general audience.

"This is something I think that students with general backgrounds and broad interests will all find interesting," Umbanhowar said.

St. Olaf has hosted its Science Symposium since 1999. The symposium serves to highlight the contributions of science and mathematics to society. The foundations of the annual event are rooted in emphasizing undergraduate research, exploring current topics, and enabling interaction between the community and top researchers.

The Manitou Messenger is a student publication of St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn. It is published weekly during the academic year except during vacations, exam periods and interim. The cost for one year's subscription is $45.00. Postage is paid in Northfield, Minnesota. Manitou Messenger
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