163 | Nigel Goldenfeld on Phase Transitions, Criticality, and Biology


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Physics is extremely good at describing simple systems with relatively few moving parts. Sadly, the world is not like that; many phenomena of interest are complex, with multiple interacting parts and interesting things happening at multiple scales of length and time. One area where the techniques of physics overlap with the multi-scale property of complex systems is in the study of phase transitions, when a composite system transitions from one phase to another. Nigel Goldenfeld has made important contributions to the study of phase transitions in their own right (and mathematical techniques for dealing with them), and has also been successful at leveraging that understanding to study biological systems, from the genetic code to the tree of life.

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Nigel Goldenfeld received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge. He currently holds the Chancellor's Distinguished Professorship in Physics at UC San Diego. Until recently he was a Swanlund Endowed Chair and Center for Advanced Study Professor in Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Among his awards are the Xerox Award for research, the A. Nordsieck award for excellence in graduate teaching, and the American Physical Society’s Leo P. Kadanoff Prize. He is the co-founder of NumeriX, a company that specializes in high-performance software for the derivatives marketplace.

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