DURHAM, N.C. Why is it that the same teams seem to dominate the annual men's collegiate basketball tournament? For that matter, why does the same small group of institutions seem to top annual best-college rankings?
According to a theory developed by a Duke University engineer, these hierarchies are not only natural, but predictable. Just as continually growing streams flow into a larger river, or smaller and smaller branches grow out from a single tree trunk, examples of these hierarchies abound in the natural world.
Whether it is a river or basketball rankings, there can only be a few at the "top" of the hierarchy, while there are many below. Once this pattern is established, like a river digging a wider and deeper bed over time, it is difficult to change it, said Adrian Bejan, engineering professor at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.
These hierarchies can be predicted by the constructal law, which Bejan developed 15 years ago and has been using to describe and predict man-made and natural phenomenon. The theory is based on the principle that flow systems evolve their designs to minimize imperfections, reducing friction or other forms of resistance, to flow more easily in time.
The best players will tend to choose winning programs, and these programs send higher percentages of athletes to the NBA, which in turn attracts the best players, said Bejan, who was a member of Romania's national select basketball team in the late 1960s and a starter on a club team that competed internationally.
The successful programs get the blue-chip recruits with less "effort" than lower-ranked schools, Bejan said. The same proves true in academia, he added, since universities with reputations like CalTech or MIT will naturally attract the brightest scientists-to-be with less effort.
The results of Bejan's analysis were published online March 1 in the International Journal of D
|Contact: Richard Merritt|