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Physics in Flatland: From Phase Transitions to Turbulence

Robert E. Ecke, Center for Nonlinear Studies, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Monday, October 1, 2012 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm
PAA A-102

​Reduced dimensionality is often an important tool in understanding general principles in physics and in describing systems that approach such dimensional reduction limits. I will discuss two areas where 2-dimensionality (“flatland”) led to both outcomes. First, I will discuss some of the important contributions made by Greg Dash in his experimental investigations of phase transitions on gaseous monolayers. I will also describe the evolution of Greg’s work, driven naturally from his deep curiosity and from his tendency to set his own directions rather than follow scientific trends. This led Greg to consider surface melting, wetting phenomena, and the generation of electricity in the atmosphere. At one point Greg proposed freezing the earth under Hanford to prevent the seepage of contaminants into the Columbia River and actually constructed a facility in a dumpster outside the Physics Building to demonstrate its feasibility! Greg’s work was a wonderful example of the impact physics has on problems of an interdisciplinary nature. I’ll follow up on this line of thinking and describe my own work on 2D turbulence that can be closely approximated in the laboratory and that has considerable similarity to flows in atmospheric and oceanic conditions where the thinness of the atmospheres/oceans leads to a quasi-two-dimensional system. To appreciate the significance and interest in 2D turbulence, I’ll review some of the properties of 3D turbulence to compare and contrast the problems.

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