Honors | The Self-Organizing Planet (HON)
H205 | 17255 | Peter Ortoleva


TuTh 1:00-2:15pm
CH A400

This course considers self-organization as a powerful, overarching
principle in science. A wide range of seemingly unrelated phenomena
are placed within the unifying framework of the laws of chemistry
and physics. The role of quantum physics in the development of
molecular and crystal structure, and their implications for living
and whole-planet structure and dynamics are identified. Systems
displaying self-organization range from viruses undergoing
structural transitions on millisecond time scales to planet-wide
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. 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 lead to an
understanding of the great richness of phenomena 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.