Sidney R. Nagel (University of Chicago)
Physics at the Breakfast Table
Watch the talk (running time approx. 50 min.)
Many complex phenomena are so familiar that we forget to ask whether or
not they are understood. In this lecture, I will discuss several
familiar cases of effects that are so ubiquitous that we hardly realize
that they defy our normal intuition about why they occur. The examples
of poorly understood classical physics that I will choose can all be
viewed at a breakfast table: the anomalous flow of granular material,
the long messy tendrils left by honey spooned from one dish to another
and the pesky rings deposited by spilled coffee on a table after the
liquid evaporates. These are all nonlinear hydrodynamic phenomena
which not only are of technological importance but can also lead the
inquisitive into new realms of physics.
Sid Nagel received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1969 and his
Ph.D in Physics from Princeton University in 1974. He was a Research
Associate at Brown University before moving in 1976 to the University of Chicago,
where he is currently is Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Physics and a member of the James Franck Institute.
Nagel works to make sense out of disordered, non-linear and out-of-equilibrium
systems. Initially his research focused on the transition that occurs when a
liquid is supercooled into an amorphous solid. His interests subsequently broadened
to include granular materials such as sand and coffee grounds. Along a
somewhat related line of research, he has been studying the singularities that
occur in hydrodynamic flows. A drop falling from a faucet is a common
example of singularity formation, as the liquid breaks up into two or more pieces.
Professor Nagel is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a member of
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the National Academy of
He is an accomplished photographer who sometimes uses his
talents for documenting his experimental research.
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