A Student Panel member writes about our recent meeting

The first student advisory panel meeting of 2016 commenced with new arrivals from JFS and Harris Academy (Morden) at Harris Academy Crystal Palace. Our discussion was centered around disordered systems with presentations from researchers hailing from Italy and Serbia.

We were joined by Dr Pierpaolo Vivo, Barbara Bravi ,Silvia Bartolucci and Aleksandra Aloric from the Faculty of Natural & Mathematical Sciences at King’s College London. Each researcher presented their international journey through academia and explained their current research including the Random Matrix theory and mathematical modelling of the immune system.

We had the privilege of having individual discussions with the researchers and were able to ask questions to further understand disordered systems. Disordered systems refers to a system in which there are multiple components involved. It includes variables that need to interact, an aspect of “randomness” and collective coordination.

We learnt how disordered systems are relevant in group behaviour. To my surprise, an example of disordered systems in group behaviour is the awkward dance with a stranger when passing each other on the street. The surprises didn’t end there with the movement of a flock of birds being another example of disordered systems. In Rome a team of researchers recorded starling flocks every day for 2 years to investigate collective coordination. There is not an established leader in the flock of birds that causes the sudden change of direction which is the random aspect of system at play. The aim of this research is to understand what causes the birds to make a sudden change of direction. Using the data collected from the birds, the researchers created a 3D model that conducted model simulations. These simulations were used by the researchers to analyse in a hope to understand the change of direction.

Afterwards, we considered how disordered systems are relevant in life sciences. Bravi’s research outlines the simplification of complicated networks of biochemical reactions using approximations. Disordered systems also helps the interpretation and analysis of data via mathematical modelling.

To make the concept of disordered systems comprehensible and widely accessible to people, Aleksandra Aloric, Silvia Bartolucci, Barbara Bravi, Sari Nusier and Anne Odling-Smee created the educational game “Random walks with pirate and parrot“. This game is available on the Play Store and it consists of different levels from helping a pirate walk to find his boat to the biological “walk” of molecules occurring within the parrot’s body.

In conclusion, the meeting was exceptionally engaging as it evoked curiosity in me alongside fellow members of the student panel about the function of disordered systems and its unexpected presence in nature and society. After this meeting I will not be able to simply admire the beauty of flying birds in the sky without thinking about the science behind it.

Bilan Ali-Abdishire, Burntwood School (Year 12)

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