The University of Chicago has received a $1.8 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to launch a new research program on the sudden and dramatic transformations that occur in processes where small-scale structural rearrangements result in rapid and far-reaching outcomes. These include the breakup of splashing water droplets, the sudden motion of landslides and the extreme shape changes that occur in a dividing cell.
The University has allocated an additional $1.2 million to the project team, which will include Margaret Gardel, Assistant Professor in Physics; Heinrich Jaeger, Professor in Physics; Sidney Nagel, the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in Physics; and Wendy Zhang, Assistant Professor in Physics.
Together they will analyze various aspects of catastrophic deformation, a class of what physicists call "far-from-equilibrium behavior." This type of physical behavior, they say, is one of the most important but also least understood issues in physics, materials science and biology.
A major component of the research will be to evaluate the phenomena of jamming, memory and singularities as a means of better understanding catastrophic deformation.
"Physics has discovered over many years of research that there are at least three categories that give unified behavior within each category: liquid, gas or solid," Jaeger said. "What's exciting for us now is this question of whether or not there are equally universal new categories beyond these three established categories. And one of those is a configuration that is neither quite solid nor quite a liquid. It is what we would call 'jammed.'"
Memory, in the physics sense, refers to whether the recent movement of a molecule is connected to what it will do next. Constant collisions between molecules contained in gases, liquids and solids in their normal states sever any such connection. But memory comes into play in materials, including
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University of Chicago