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A nonlinearity in the past
I'm in Washington DC attending a small workshop entitled Understanding and Exploiting Nonlinearity. Yesterday several talks described recent developments of nonlinear dynamics, the kind of phenomena that can be described by a set of nonlinear ordinary differential equations. Years ago, when the theory of chaos was in vogue, I looked at several textbooks on nonlinear dynamics, and tried to apply a few elementary ideas to evolving structures in materials. This time I learned that many of the esoteric ideas of nonlinear dynamics have found applications in modeling natural phenomena and creating new devices. Perhaps it is a good time to relearn nonlinear dynamics.
Talks today are on nonlinear phenomena in various fields. I'll be talking about nonlinear field theory of active soft materials. The speaker now is talking about semiconductor lasers. My mind starts to wander...
When I came to the United States in 1986 as a graduate student, the International Office of the university matched me with a host family, Ed and Jane. Ed was a professor at MIT, and Jane was a housewife. They invited me several times to dinner. They took me to MIT campus and museums in Boston. When we met, Jane did most talking, and Ed remained quiet. For my first Thanksgiving in the United States, they invited me for dinner at their apartment on Memorial Drive. Their grown children also came. After dinner we went for a walk along the Charles River. I had a conversation with his son. I mentioned that I was an engineering student and liked mathematics. The son told me that his father, Ed, was a meteorologist and also liked mathematics.
The significance of the conversation did not register in my mind until years later when I began to be interested in nonlinear dynamics. I finally made the connection: Ed was Edward Lorenz, father of chaos theory and butterfly effect.