Presidential Lecture: Patterns in Nature by Prof. Sidney Nagel


Thursday, June 29, 2023 - 15:00 to 16:30




The commonplace is extraordinary! Examine closely the world around you and you’ll realize that many things that you take for granted are truly astonishing. Take, for example, a simple drop of liquid falling onto a surface: if the surface is cool and dry, the drop will likely splash; if the surface is hot, however, the drop simply hovers and never touches down. Consider another: when a liquid is compressed between two smooth surfaces, it forms an expected circular disk; but when the plates are separated, quite a different pattern emerges. This is a form of dilation symmetry caused by the penetration of space. It is all around and within us.

In this talk, I will emphasize the surprises and elegance of how nature arranges the texture of our lives.

About the Speaker

Prof. Sidney Nagel, Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor, The University of Chicago

Sidney Nagel is a condensed-matter experimentalist focusing on problems where the physics of disorder and far-from-equilibrium behavior play crucial roles. Of particular delight is when table-top experiments have analogs in disparate fields at widely different scales. In particular, he has studied the glass transition, the phenomenology of granular material, and the physics of jamming; he has also focused on pattern and singularity formation in fluid interfaces, and the formation of stains left behind by evaporating liquid drops. A current interest is the investigation of memory formation in out-of-equilibrium matter. He has worked to make his science accessible to a broad public by emphasizing the inherent beauty of the phenomena he studies in the laboratory. Raised in New York City, Nagel was educated at Columbia University (B.A. in 1969) and at Princeton University (Ph.D. in 1975) where he worked in the group of Stephen Schnatterly. After working for two years as a postdoc at Brown under the mentorship of Jan Tauc, he moved to the University of Chicago in 1976 where he has remained and is now the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Physics and the James Franck and Enrico Fermi Institutes. He served in the chair line of the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Condensed Matter Physics from 2002 to 2005. He is a Fellow of the APS, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He was awarded the American Association of Physics Teachers Klopsteg Memorial Lecture and the APS Oliver E. Buckley Prize, and the 2023 APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research.


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