TagHarvard University

Eric J. Heller Gallery-Where Science Inspires Art and Art Informs Science

Eric Johnson Heller (b. 1946) lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a member of the Physics and Chemistry faculties of Harvard University, where he also received his Ph.D. in 1973.

“Art has a unique capacity convey insights, intuitively and emotionally, about complex subject matter. If there is a short circuit to wisdom, it is through art. I try to exploit the powers of art to relate secrets of Nature only recently uncovered. A key element in my work is exploitation of Nature’s almost narcissistic self-similarity, her repetition of pattern on vastly different scales and in radically different contexts. Consider, the motion of the planets around the sun and electrons orbiting a nucleus, or waves on water and electron waves in a semiconductor. With such repetition, Nature provides her own windows into otherwise secret worlds.”

(Eric J. Heller Gallery)

Shadow World

“How many dimensions space has could all be a matter of perspective. In a school of thought that teaches the existence of extra dimensions, Juan Maldacena may at first sound a little out of place. String theory is physicists’ still-tentative strategy for reconciling Einstein’s theory of gravitation with quantum physics. Its premise is that the subatomic particles that roam our three-dimensional world are really infinitesimally thin strings vibrating in nine dimensions. According to Maldacena, however, the key to understanding string theory is not to add more dimensions but to cut their number down.

But, the most important fallout from Maldacena’s intuition has probably been on the field of string theory itself. His work has offered physicists hope that they can make the string idea rigorous by tracing its roots to ordinary quantum physics. Maldacena’s conjecture has energized string theory advocates, occupying the center of a confluence of ideas coming from several branches of physics. “It’s the most incredible discovery in theoretical physics in the last 20 years,” says Harvard University’s Nima Arkani-Hamed. ”

via Streams of Consciousness

Shadow World

(see also Mobius Transformations)

In a first, scientists develop tiny implantable biocomputers Discussion at PhysOrgForum

Researchers at Harvard University and Princeton University have made a crucial step toward building biological computers, tiny implantable devices that can monitor the activities and characteristics of human cells. The information provided by these “molecular doctors,” constructed entirely of DNA, RNA, and proteins, could eventually revolutionize medicine by directing therapies only to diseased cells or tissues.

Full Story: Physorg.com.

(via Sauceruney)

Computer analysis provides Incan string theory

Via me, Fell, a pretend-ninja and superstar in my own mind

Oh? and New Scientist?

The mystery surrounding a cryptic string-based communication system used by ancient Incan administrators may at last be unravelling, thanks to computer analysis of hundreds of different knotted bundles.

The discovery provides a tantalising glimpse of bureaucracy in the Andean empire and may, for the first time, also reveal an Incan word written in string.

Woven from cotton, llama or alpaca wool, the mysterious string bundles – known as Khipu – consist of a single strand from which dangle up to thousands of subsidiary strings, each featuring a bewildering array of knots. Of the 600 or so Khipu that have been found, most date from between 1400 AD and 1500 AD. However, a few are thought to be about 1000 years old.

Spanish colonial documents suggest that Khipu were in some way used to keep records and communicate messages. Yet how the cords were used to convey useful information has puzzled generations of experts.

Unpicking the knots

Now, anthropologist Gary Urton and mathematician Carrie Brezine at Harvard University, Massachusetts, US, think they may have begun unravelling the knotty code. The pair built a searchable database containing key information about Khipu strings, such as the number and position of subsidiary strings and the number and position of knots tied in them.

The pair then used this database to search for similarities between 21 Khipus discovered in 1956 at the key Incan administrative base of Puruchuco, near modern day Lima in Peru. Superficial similarities suggested that the Khipu could be connected but the database revealed a crucial mathematical bond – the data represented by subsidiary strands on some of Khipu could be combined to create the strands found on more complex ones.

This suggests the Khipu were used to collate information from different parts of the empire, which stretched for more than 5500 kilometres. Brezine used the mathematical software package Mathematica to scour the database for other mathematical links ? and found several.

First word

“Local accountants would forward information on accomplished tasks upward through the hierarchy, with information at each successive level representing the summation of accounts from the levels below,” Urton says. “This communication was used to record the information deemed most important to the state, which often included accounting and other data related to censuses, finances and the military.”

And Urton and Brezine go a step further. Given that the Puruchuco strings may represent collations of data different regions, they suggest that a characteristic figure-of-eight knot found on all of the 21 Puruchuco strings may represent the place itself. If so, it would be the first word to ever be extracted from an Incan Khipu.

Completely deciphering the Khipu may never be possible, Urton says, but further analysis of the Khipu database might reveal other details of life. New archaeological discoveries could also throw up some more surprises, Urton told New Scientist.

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