A little chaos: UH-Hilo physics professor dives into science

Chaos has a little more meaning thanks to a paper recently published in Nature.

Dr. Philippe Binder, a physics professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, co-authored a paper about chaotic systems with Robert Pipes, one of his undergraduate students, that was recently published in the prestigious scientific journal.

The paper, titled “How chaos forgets and remembers,” provides context and commentary on a study of chaotic systems conducted by scientists at University of California, Davis.

Chaotic systems are systems that are seemingly random, but are governed by simple mathematical equations.

Chemical reactions, electrical circuits and biological populations all display elements of chaos. In each case, what happened in the past determines what is happening in the present, which determines what will happen in the future.

Binder and Pipes’ paper explains that there are different kinds of information that one can gather from a chaotic system at any given point in time.

Information that has been carried over from the past is called “redundant” or “predicted.” New information is either “bound,” information that influences how a system will change over time, or “ephemeral,” information has no effect on the future.

The research began as a term project Pipes worked on in one of Binder’s classes. Of the eight students in the class, two have continued with their work beyond the end of the semester.

The original intent of the project — which culminated in the published paper — was to understand and replicate the results of the original study, a task Binder says can be difficult for an undergraduate with limited research experience like Pipes.

However, the pair doesn’t intend to stop there. Since the publication of the paper, they have begun to dig deeper into chaotic systems and conduct their own original research.

Publication in a journal as prestigious as Nature is a notable accomplishment for an undergraduate student. Binder says it’s a reflection of Pipes’ ability as a student and a researcher.

“Even at an Ivy League school,” Binder said, “you’ll be lucky to see one or two undergraduate students published in Nature.”

What isn’t notable is the time Binder dedicates to assisting his students. According to Binder, every professor in the physics department — and in all the natural sciences — pushes their students to conduct their own research.

“We enjoy working with our students,” Binder said. “We like to give all our students the opportunity to do original research.”


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