Honors | The Self-Organizing Planet (HON)
H205 | 29153 | Peter Ortoleva


TuTh 12:00-1:15pm
CH A500

This course considers self-organization as a powerful, overarching
principle in science.  In this course, a wide range of seemingly
unrelated phenomena are placed within the unifying framework of the
laws of chemistry and physics. The rule of quantum physics in the
development of molecular and crystal structure, and their
implications for living and whole-Earth structure and dynamics are
identified. Systems displaying self-organization range from viruses
undergoing structural transitions on millisecond time scales to
whole-planet reorganization of the Earth’s crust on the 100 million
year scale. The variety of snowflake patterns are contrasted with
that of human socio-economic or ecological systems. Analogues
between stem cell division and 100 kilometer-scale convection
patterns deep within the earth are placed within a common vision of
symmetry-breaking instability. Through these and many other examples
students will become acquainted with the universal principles of
self-organization that have led to an understanding of the great
richness of phenomena that are supported by a special planet like
Earth. Conditions supporting this complexity are elucidated and
implications for the emergence and sustainment of life on Earth are
drawn.