Inaugural Lecture: What are the physical rules that govern our complex irreversible world?

General event

Inaugural Lecture: What are the physical rules that govern our complex irreversible world?

  • Event time: 5:15pm until 7:00pm
  • Event date: 1st December 2022
  • Speaker: (School of Physics & Astronomy, University of Edinburgh)
  • Location: Lecture theatre A, , KB

Event details

Statistical physicists want to know how structures and patterns in complex systems emerge from the interactions between component parts. Particularly vexing are the large-scale consequences of irreversible driving at the microscopic scale. This is frustrating as such driving forces are everywhere: in industrial manufacturing processes, in organisms as they consume energy to generate motion, and in more virtual world of human social behaviour as it is acquired through learning. In this talk, I will survey two basic methods for discovering the rules that govern irreversible dynamical systems. First, one can set up some rules and see how they play out. For a model system of aligning particles, I will show that the characteristic turning behaviour of bird flocks can arise through irreversible changes in the scale of fluctuations. Alternatively, one can attempt to infer which of a large set of possible rules is most compatible with some observed data. Through this technique, I will uncover how individual speakers have caused their languages to change over historical time periods. I will conclude with some prospects for future research.

A reception will follow in the foyer.

All are welcome to attend. Please register your attendance by 24th November at the below eventbrite link.
Richard Blythe holds a Personal Chair in Complex Systems in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh. Prior to this, he was awarded an MSci (Hons) degree in Physics with Study in Continental Europe by the University of Bristol, a PhD in Theoretical Physics by the University of Edinburgh and two personal research fellowships before appointment as a Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in 2007. Promotion to Reader followed in 2014 and to a Personal Chair in 2019.

In his research, Richard uses mathematics and computer models to understand how patterns and structures emerge in systems with many interacting parts. He is particularly interested in how self-propelled organisms (like bacteria, birds or fish) may cluster together, and how information and behaviour spreads through social networks. In collaborations with linguists, Richard has applied models to understand new dialect formation and competition between linguistic variants that is mediated by human social interactions. He currently leads an RSE research network on applying methods from theoretical physics to living systems with partners at the University of Goettingen and the Max-Plank Institute for Dynamics and Self Organization. He further sits on the steering committee of the University’s interdisciplinary Centre for Language Evolution. He also inaugurated the visitor and workshop programme of the Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics which has since welcomed countless physicists from around the world to discuss fundamental questions about the universe.
Richard has contributed widely to undergraduate teaching, including coordinating the research project experience for Physics and Astronomy finalists and welcoming new physics students with their first taste of University mathematics. Richard has been an enthusiastic early adopter of peer instruction techniques in mathematics teaching, and introduced robust assessment methodologies for project work, aspects of which have been replicated across the College of Science and Engineering. He served for five years in the College as the College Academic Misconduct Officer, improving procedures and working with colleagues to maintain academic integrity during the pandemic. His sustained good practice in University teaching was recognised in 2018 with the award of a Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. He recently joined the University Senate and was subsequently elected as the professorial Senate Assessor to University Court.

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