Sid Nagel


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 Sciences. He is an accomplished photographer who sometimes uses his talents for documenting his experimental research.

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