Studying Complex Systems and Materials

Stanford University researchers have designed a frugal way to study complex systems and materials using dancing droplets of food coloring housed in hand-drawn lattices.

With these supplies, the researchers invented a new way to rapidly prototype complex geometries mirroring symmetries present in problems of interest. Instead of planets strewn about the solar system, many tiny droplets interact with each other at a distance and the observer can directly watch and manipulate how the system evolves over time. The researchers detailed their new method in a paper published Aug. 24 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The simple – and inexpensive – technique could be applied to many different questions across myriad fields. Other methods for studying these problems tend to be purely theoretical or require expensive and rare equipment at the nanoscale. For their part, the researchers are particularly interested in the physics of exotic materials, including new magnetic materials unlike anything found in nature.

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