Simple systems driven from equilibrium will spontaneously form patterns. A classic demonstration is a pot of water on a stove. If the stove is not turned on, the water remains still. The fluid is in equilibrium, and all parts behave the same; there is no structure. But if the heat is turned on, the water begins to move in an organized manner. The water rises along the walls of the pot and falls in the middle. From initially homogeneous conditions the water has developed an organized dynamical structure. The world is filled with countless examples of this general phenomenon from the mundane—the ornate architecture of a snow flake, the crown-like splash of a drop, the dark ring around a coffee strain—to the exotic— the Earth’s magnetic field, sunspots, the large scale structure of the universe.
Is all the structure in world around us an inevitable product of the forcing? Is life itself a generic manifestation of driven systems? These are fascinating issues that research on nonequilibrium systems and pattern formation will hopefully one day answer.
My research focus is patterns in fluids and solids. Lately, I've been working on drop impact, vibrated shear thickening fluids, vibrated drops, the statistics of caustic networks, and exploding seed pods. Some past projects include the fracture of rubber and silicon, and the formation of rings from a drying drop.
November 8, 2012