Making Sense out of Chaos

Amrita Faculty Present Nonlinear Dynamics Training in Trivandrum

Dec 18, 2009
Amrita School of Engineering, Coimbatore
& Amrita School of Arts and Sciences, Amritapuri

To most people, the word chaos may be unsettling, bringing with it thoughts of disorder and mess. But to scientists like Dr. V.P. Mohandas and Dr. Delmar Marshall, faculty at Amrita, chaos theory is an exciting new field of study birthed by the advent of computers.

Chaos Theory“Previously scientific study was, by and large, limited to linear systems,” Dr. Marshall explains. “One used equations with quantities to the first power and produced graphs with straight lines.”

In early December, both Professors were invited by the College of Engineering in Trivandrum to deliver introductory and advanced sessions on Chaos Theory as part of the Advances in Control and Computing Course sponsored by the Kerala State Directorate of Technical Education.

Dr. V. P. Mohandas, the Chair of the Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering at Amrita’s Coimbatore Campus taught a basic session, Introduction to Chaos. An expert in soft computing and dynamic system theory applications in financial engineering, Dr. Mohandas is currently guiding several Ph.D. scholars in this area.

How and why did he make the time to learn about Chaos Theory? “I am mostly self-taught,” he says. “A basic understanding of Chaos Theory is essential in getting to the underlying dynamics that govern any process, be it engineering, socio-economic or scientific.”

Dr. Mohandas’s presentation was at an introductory level and targeted delegates who wanted a basic understanding of the area. “I used referred web resources, IEEE papers and open courseware of various universities,” he says. Dr. Marshall, on the other hand, studied Chaos Theory as a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, USA.

“I had the opportunity to study the subject under (see news)Dr. Clint Sprott, a leading expert in the field,” he says. Dr. Marshall is currently Professor of Physics at the Amrita School of Arts and Sciences in Amritapuri. His association with his teacher continues. Since coming to Amritapuri, he has published several papers in collaboration with Dr. Sprott.

“With the help of computers, we can now analyze nonlinear systems which involve equations with quantities raised to higher powers and graphs with curves,” explains Dr. Marshall. “Chaos Theory, or the study of nonlinear dynamics, dramatically expands what scientists can study, since most of what there is to study is nonlinear.”
Chaos Theory

To illustrate the way these dynamics can affect us, Dr. Marshall offers the example of what is popularly known as “The Butterfly Effect.” “The modern study of nonlinear dynamics began when a meteorologist making computer models of climatic changes was astonished to discover that a minute disturbance in one location could result in a major change in the weather in distant location,” he says. “Hence the saying, A butterfly flapping its wings in Japan may cause a tornado in the USA.”

Or, to bring it even closer to home, a small outage in one part of a vast electrical grid can cause the entire grid to shut down and leave millions of people without power. “Studying chaos makes it possible for scientists to predict and control some of these events in order to help offset their harmful effects,” states Dr. Marshall. Dr. Marshall taught two sessions to engineers in the course that explored and studies various mathematical approaches to managing complex physical systems.

As the challenges facing society grow more and more complex, Amrita is proud to have scientists such as Dr. Mohandas and Dr. Marshall who are among the pioneers bringing new tools to academic communities in India and throughout the world. They have an invitation to return to Trivandrum early in the coming year for a similar presentation at an International Conference on Control, Communication and Computing; this suggests that their efforts are being recognized and welcomed.

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