Renowned mathematical physicist to accept Sydney Chair

Photo courtesy of Klemens Karkow/PIK Mathematical physicist Jürgen Kurths has accepted an appointment to the Sydney Chapman Endowed Chair of Physical Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Photo courtesy of Klemens Karkow/PIK
Mathematical physicist Jürgen Kurths has accepted an appointment to the Sydney Chapman Endowed Chair of Physical Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has named internationally renowned German mathematical physicist Jürgen Kurths to the Sydney Chapman Endowed Chair of Physical Sciences. The chair is a faculty position in UAF’s College of Natural Science and Mathematics.

“I intend to bring in my interdisciplinary view from complex systems science to various areas at UAF, in particular, to Earth and life sciences and engineering,” said Kurths. “I will present a series of lectures to students as well as young and further interested researchers and will also organize an interdisciplinary seminar and some workshops together with colleagues from different areas of UAF. “

Kurths is known for discovering basic phenomena in complex systems and applying them to several fields. Complex systems are systems with many components that interact with each other. They can range from a small living cell to the entire universe, but the systems all share certain characteristics like a pattern of order in seeming chaos.

Kurths discovered that a phenomenon called phase synchronization, which was observed in pendulum clocks in the 17th century, is also part of complex systems. This led Kurths to a new understanding of the interaction between the heart rate, respiration and brain activity in humans. He also discovered the phenomenon called complex recurrence and used it to uncover the influence of El Niño on the Indian Monsoon.

Physics Professor David Newman, who was on the selection committee, said Kurths is unique in that his work can be universally appreciated.

“I think one of Jürgen’s great strengths is his ability to develop and apply new techniques for analyzing complex systems across a wide range of disciplines,” said Newman. “He has published so many papers and has worked with such a diverse array of researchers, it’s amazing.”

Kurths is a professor of nonlinear dynamics at the Institute of Physics in Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany. He is also a lead scientist for Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, fellow of the Academia Europaea, and recently became the editor in chief of the journal Chaos, which is one of the American Institute of Physics’ premier science journals.

The Alaska State Legislature created the Sydney Chapman Endowed Chair of Physical Sciences in 1983 as the first endowed chair in the University of Alaska system. The position gives students and faculty a chance to learn from distinguished researchers who are pioneers in the physical sciences.

Sydney Chapman was a professor of geophysics at UAF and advisory scientific director of the Geophysical Institute. He was a pioneer in exploring how solar wind interacts with the Earth’s magnetosphere to create “space weather.”

Kurths will give his first seminar from 4-5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7 in the Elvey Building, Room 214, on the UAF campus. The seminar will explore whether understanding modern aspects of complex systems science can be useful to life and Earth sciences.

Kurths appointment to the Chapman chair closes the 10-year tenure of co-chairs Eddy Carmack and David Scholl. The two will give commemorative lectures from 5-6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8 in the Murie Building auditorium and atrium on the Fairbanks campus.

Carmack is a Canadian oceanographer whose science has furthered understanding of the entire Arctic Ocean and land system. Scholl is an American marine geologist who has contributed to understanding of plate tectonics and deposits of natural gas trapped in frozen water in the ocean’s sediments.

“Dr. Scholl and Dr. Carmack have been exceptional Chapman chairs,” said CNSM Dean Paul Layer. “We look forward to Dr. Kurths continuing their tradition of excellence in organizing seminars and workshops that appeal to students and faculty in the many science disciplines at UAF.”

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