Schools Workshop: Chaos & Complexity

IOP Nonlinear and Complex Physics Group – School Outreach Event

3rd July 2014 – Imperial College London

Although it was a warm day, 40 school pupils and their teachers were engaged in both workshops on chaos and complexity from academics at Imperial College, and theatrical interpretation from the Jugular Productions team!

Outline of Day:

9.30 – Welcome and icebreaker activities

9.45 – Talk 1 – Nicky Zachariou

Summary of Talk

It is a good idea that I introduce the basic terms that will be used throughout the day, e.g.

system: a set of elements or parts that is coherently organised and inter-connected in a pattern or structure that produces a characteristic set of behaviours, often classified as its “function” or “purpose”

complex system: a large number of interacting components  (connected individuals/agents) whose aggregate activity cannot be predicted by the summation of the activity of individual components.

emergence: a “surprising” behaviour of the system which cannot be predicted by the behaviour of the individual components.

self-organisation: the ability of a system to structure itself, to create a new structure, to learn, or diversify (like an orchestra without a conductor)

I will give the example of flocking birds and show that this emergent behaviour in the macro-scale (zoom-out to see the flock as a system) is a consequence of 3 simple micro-scale rules (zoom-in to the individual birds):

Separation – avoid crowding neighbours (short range repulsion)!

Alignment – steer towards average heading of neighbours

Cohesion – steer towards average position of neighbours (long range attraction)

Pupils will act out this process to demonstrate emegence of flocks!

10.15 – Talk 2 – Kishan Manani

Summary of talk

The overall theme will be about synchronisation in the heart. The heart is made up of millions of cells which directly signal only to neighbouring cells. Nevertheless, the heart is able to contract in a synchronised manner as a whole to efficiently pump blood from the atria to the ventricles and from the ventricles to the body. I will discuss this mechanical synchrony comes about from local cell-to-cell interactions (i.e., the propagation of the action potential) which result in emergent electrochemical wavefronts which propagate over heart muscle tissue. I will discuss how this synchronised, spatio-temporal process can then go wrong and result in abnormal heart rhythms. I will make links and connect similarities in how these waves propagate over the heart with other complex systems (e.g. honey bees, slime moulds, the tongue, Mexican waves, the BZ chemical reaction).

10.45 – short break

11.00 – Theatrical interpretation of the mornings talks with pupils and facilitators.

12.30 – Pupils go for lunch on campus

13.15 – Talk 3 – Moez Draief

Moez gave a fascinating talk on Socially Intelligent Computational Systems.  Pupils were engaged with how many of the systems they use work@ google, Netflix, Yahoo, stackoverflow and others.

His slides are available here: Outreach_day_July_2014

13.45 – Theatrical interpretation of the mornings talks with pupils and facilitators.

14.15 – Prof. Kim Christensen provided a summary of complexity science and its study.  Slides available here: OutReach-Handout