Scientific Computing for Movies and Beyond

Speaker: Joseph M. Teran, Professor of Applied Mathematics
University of California, Los Angeles
When: Sep. 18, 2017, 6:00 pm
Where: Room 1005, Roger A. and Helen B. Krone Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB), 950 Atlantic Dr NW, Atlanta, GA 30332

Light refreshments will be served before the lecture.


Simulations of virtual materials in movie special effects, as well as virtual surgery, require some applications of scientific computing for solid and fluid mechanics problems. Both movie special effects and virtual surgery demand physically realistic dynamics for things like water, smoke, fire, and soft tissues. For these, new algorithms are required. Joseph M. Teran will discuss the simulation techniques required and will share some recent results, such as:

  • simulated surgical repair of biomechanical soft tissues
  • extreme deformation of elastic objects with contact
  • high-resolution incompressible flow
  • clothing and hair dynamics

He will discuss the algorithm used to simulate the dynamics in the Disney animated film “Frozen.”


Nicholas Hud has devoted much of his research to elucidating the fundamental principles of RNA and DNA assembly. His lab examines how the physical properties of nucleic acids govern biological functions in contemporary life and how these same properties provide clues to the origin and early evolution of life.


Joseph M. Teran is a professor of applied mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles. His research focus is numerical methods for partial differential equations arising in classical physics, including

  • computational solids and fluids
  • multi-material interactions
  • fracture dynamics
  • computational biomechanics

Exciting applications of his work arise in virtual surgery and movie special effects for Walt Disney Animation.

Teran received a 2011 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the National Science Foundation and a 2010 Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research. In 2008, Discover Magazine named Teran one of the 50 “Best Brains in Science.” 

About Frontiers in Science Lectures

Lectures in this series are intended to inform, engage, and inspire students, faculty, staff, and the public on developments, breakthroughs, and topics of general interest in the sciences and mathematics. Lecturers tailor their talks for nonexpert audiences.

Darwin’s Warm Little Pond: Searching for the Chemical Origins of Life

Speaker: Nicholas Hud, Director, Center for Chemical Evolution, Regents Professor, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Georgia Institute of Technology
When: Apr. 20, 2017, 7:30 pm
Where: Clary Theater, Bill Moore Student Success Center, 225 North Ave. NW, Atlanta, GA 30332



Charles Darwin once speculated that biological molecules might spontaneously form in a “warm little pond.” Then he concluded that it was “mere rubbish” to think about the origin of life during his time.

Now, 150 years later, tremendous advances In biology and chemistry have made it possible to explore—using model reactions and genomic data—the chemical origins and early evolution of life.

This combination of bottom-up (chemical) and top-down (biological) approaches to uncovering the origins of life is helping to write the “missing first chapter” of Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species.


Nicholas Hud has devoted much of his research to elucidating the fundamental principles of RNA and DNA assembly. His lab examines how the physical properties of nucleic acids govern biological functions in contemporary life and how these same properties provide clues to the origin and early evolution of life.


Lectures in this series are intended to inform, engage, and inspire students, faculty, staff, and the public on developments, breakthroughs, and topics of general interest in the sciences and mathematics. Lecturers tailor their talks for nonexpert audiences.

Light refreshments will be served.

Parking is available in the Visitors Lot on the south side of North Avenue, across Tech Tower.

The Square Kilometre Array: Big Telescope, Big Science, Big Data

Speaker: Russ Taylor, Director, Inter-University Institute
for Data Intensive Astronomy,
University of Cape Town
When: Jan. 23, 2017, 6:00 pm
Where: Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, Room 152, 266 Fourth St. NW, Atlanta, GA 30313


The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is a next generation global radio telescope currently undergoing final design by a collaboration of institutions in 11 countries. The SKA will be one of the largest scientific projects ever undertaken, designed to answer some of the big questions of our time: What is Dark Energy? Was Einstein right about gravity? What is the nature of dark matter? Can we detect gravitational waves? When and how did the first stars and galaxies form? What was the origin of cosmic magnetic fields? How do Earth-like planets form? Is there life, intelligent or otherwise, elsewhere in the Universe?

The SKA radio telescope dish array is coming to South Africa toward the end of this decade. When completed it will consist of thousands of radio antennas spread out over an area of thousands of kilometres in Southern Africa.

The SKA will create 3D maps of the universe 10,000 times faster than any imaging radio telescope array ever built. Precursor telescopes based on SKA technologies are under construction here in South African and in Western Australia and will begin scientific investigations in late 2016. These developments foreshadow one of the most significant big data challenges of the coming decade and the beginning a new era of big data in radio astronomy, in which researchers working at the forefront of data science will be a critical part of.

Russ Taylor will deliver the lecture. He is the director of the Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy and the South African Joint Research Chair in Radio Astronomy, University of Cape Town and University of Western Cape.

Strange and Subtle States of Matter: The Topological Ideas Behind the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics

pgoldbart-nobel2016-slide1Speaker: Paul M. Goldbart, Dean, College of Sciences; Betsy Middleton and John Clark Sutherland Chair; and Professor, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology
When: Nov. 14, 2016, 7:00 pm
Where: Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, Room 152, 266 Fourth St. NW, Atlanta, GA 30313


The gases, liquids, and solids that humans have known and harnessed since prehistory are human-scale reflections of how atoms and molecules are organized at the atomic scale. This organization is driven by the forces exerted by atoms and molecules on one another. At high temperatures, the organization consists only of local conspiracies that continually form and decay but are too small to have much impact. At low temperatures, however, the conspiracies spread to become global revolutions, which bring new phases of matter that exhibit new properties reflecting the new organization. Rigidity, magnetism, liquid crystallinity, and superconductivity are just a handful of examples of such properties, which we call emergent collective properties.

Until recently, organization meant geometry: Picture the tidy lattice of ions in a crystal of table salt. Nowadays, however, in the light of the elegant ideas put forward by David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, Mike Kosterlitz, and the many they have inspired, physicists recognize that organization can be subtler and more elusive. It can be invisible to geometry, though detectable via topology, and still trigger revolutions in the human-scale properties that make matter useful.

My aim is to spend fifty minutes at the intersection of beauty and impact. I shall introduce the circle of ideas that underlie classical and quantum phases of matter and then focus on the “theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter” that the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics is celebrating.

3D Shadows: Casting Light on the Fourth Dimension

FrontiersInScience2016PosterProfessor Henry Segerman presents the Frontiers in Science Public Lecture “3D Shadows: Casting Light on the Fourth Dimension”
Author of Visualizing Mathematics with 3D Printing
Book signing will follow the lecture.

Speaker: Henry Segerman
Affiliation: Department of Mathematics, Oklahoma State University
Host: Stavros Garoufalidis
When: Oct. 27, 2016, 7:30 pm
Where: Student Success Center – Clary Theatre


Our brains have evolved in a three-dimensional environment, and so we are very good at visualizing two- and three-dimensional objects. But what about four-dimensional objects? The best we can really do is to look at three dimensional “shadows”. Just as a shadow of a three-dimensional object squishes it into the two-dimensional plane, we can squish a four-dimensional shape into three-dimensional space, where we can then make a sculpture of it. If the four-dimensional object isn’t too complicated and we choose a good way to squish it, then we can get a very good sense of what it is like. We will explore the sphere in four-dimensional space, the four-dimensional polytopes (which are the four-dimensional versions of the three-dimensional polyhedra), and various 3D printed sculptures, puzzles, and virtual reality experiences that have come from thinking about these things.

The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow Of Time

Frontiers in Science Flyer for Sean Carroll talkProfessor Sean Carroll (Caltech) presents Frontiers in Science Public Lecture “The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time”

Speaker: Prof. Sean Carroll
Affiliation: California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
When: Mon, April 11, 2016 – 7:00 pm
Where: CULC, Rm 144
Host: Profs. Deirdre Shoemaker and Edwin Greco
Title: The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time
One of the most obvious facts about the universe is that the past is different from the future. We can remember yesterday, but not tomorrow; we can turn an egg into an omelet, but can’t turn an omelet into an egg. That’s the arrow of time, which is consistent throughout the observable universe.

The arrow can be explained by assuming that the very early universe was extremely orderly, and disorder has been increasing ever since. But why did the universe start out so orderly? I will talk about the nature of time, the origin of entropy, and how what happened before the Big Bang may be responsible for the arrow of time we observe today.

Saving the Endangered African Painted Dog: Science, Conservation and Communities

Dr. Gregory Rasmussen

Director, Painted Dog Research Trust, Zimbabwe

“Saving the Endangered African Painted Dog: Science, Conservation and Communities”

Understanding that from a conservation perspective, ecosystems must include the human element, Dr. Gregory Rasmussen’s lecture will not only discuss research on the enigmatic African Painted Dog, but also explore how integration of contemporary human needs with empathy for wildlife and habitats can lead to successful conservation practices.

Greg’s presentation will offer memorable encounters with Painted Dogs over the course of his 25- year journey to protect this remarkable species. He will focus on lessons learned and future directions, including training tomorrow’s generations of local conservationists.

Painted Dog Research Trust, Zimbabwe

With research and science as guiding tools, Painted Dog Research Trust is dedicated to conserving the highly endangered Painted Dog, also known as the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus). Dr. Rasmussen, the trust’s founder, has led this work for 25 years, thus making it one of the longest continuous study of the remarkable species. Painted Dog Research Trust is based near Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in a landscape mosaic of national parks, forestry, private safari areas, and traditional communal lands.

With the pan-African population declining from half a million to some 5,000, the Painted Dog is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as “Highly Endangered.” Painted Dog populations in Zimbabwe link to all five neighboring countries: Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, South Africa and Mozambique. Thus, Zimbabwe is an important keystone for this species. To maintain the integrity of the populations in Zimbabwe and other countries, research must continue unabated, because long-term study and monitoring are core to the continued survival of Painted Dogs.

Dr. Gregory Rasmussen

Gregory Rasmussen was born in London and moved to Zimbabwe with his parents when he was still a child. After college, he began work on a research project on Painted Dogs in Hwange National Park and became so committed to the species that he sold his belongings to live and work for their protection.

Greg is a conservation biologist who retains affiliation with the Wildlife Conservation Unit at Oxford University, where he earned his Ph.D. He is also a research associate and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. His research interests are wide ranging, but with special focus on trans-boundary conservation.

In 2003, an airplane crash left Greg severely injured and alone in the African bush.  He endured extreme temperatures and exposure to predators while waiting for help. Eventually he was rescued, and the story of his survival was featured in Discovery Channel’s, “I Shouldn’t Be Alive” series.



Georgia Institute of Technology

College of Sciences

“Frontiers in Science” Lecture Series

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

7:30 PM

Clary Theater, Bill Moore Student Success Center

A reception follows the lecture.
(Parking available in Visitors Lot, on the south side of North Avenue, across from Tech Tower.)

Decoding Dream Teams: The Signatures of Collaborative Success in Science and Beyond

DeChurch_Frontiers in ScienceA talk by Professor Leslie DeChurch of the Georgia Tech School of Psychology.

Teams have always spurred important feats of mankind. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin placed the American flag on the moon, but the event was the culmination of years of innovative work by innumerable teams of scientists and engineers. Similar stories abound, heralding the triumphs of human collaboration in settings as varied as disaster response, healthcare delivery, and the creative arts. Equally poignant are the stories of team failure: a team of competent individuals who failed to gel – their conflicts and inability to collaborate setting the stage for disaster. The failure of intelligence teams in the FBI and CIA to anticipate the terrorist attacks of 9-11 or the failure of healthcare teams to stanch the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. This talk will report on the latest efforts to decode the structural signatures of teams to decipher the key insights that explain how – and how well – individuals organize in teams and systems of teams.

Leslie DeChurch’s research is being used to improve teams engaged with scientific innovation, military-civil cooperation, humanitarian aid & disaster response, health care, and space exploration. Her research on complex forms of collaboration has been supported by more than $8 Million in extramural funding from NSF, NASA, NIH, ARI, ARO, & ANR (France) including an NSF CAREER award to understand leadership in multiteam systems. She serves on multiple editorial boards, recently served on a National Academy of Science consensus study, and serves on the board of the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research (INGRoup).

Physics, information, and Computation

Dembo_8x11A talk by Professor Amir Dembo of Stanford University.

Theoretical models of disordered materials yield precise predictions about the efficiency of communication codes and the typical complexity of certain combinatorial optimization problems. The underlying common structure is that of many discrete variables, whose interaction is represented by a random ‘tree like’ sparse graph.
We review recent progress in proving such predictions and the related algorithmic insights gained from it.

This talk is based on joint works with Andrea Montanari, Allan Sly and Nike Sun.

Amir Dembo is the Marjorie Mhoon Fair Professor of Quantitative Science (in Mathematics and Statistics) at Stanford University. He received the B.Sc and D.Sc. degrees in electrical engineering from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa in 1980, 1986 respectively. Dr. Dembo held visiting positions at U. Paris 7, U. Paris 6, Technion, Courant Institute, MSRI, Weizmann Institute and most recently at U. Paris 9. Dr. Dembo advised 15 Ph.D. students and co-authored more than 100 technical publications, including the book, “Large Deviations Techniques and Applications”, (Second Edition, Springer-Verlag, 1998, with O. Zeitouni). He is a fellow of the IMS, was a special invited IMS medallion lecturer (2005), an invited speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians (2006) and the invited Levy lecturer of the Bernouli society(2009). Dr. Dembo worked in a number of areas including information theory, signal processing and bio-molecular sequence analysis. His current research interests are in probability theory and its relations with statistical physics.



Corals as Expert Witnesses to Climate Change

CobbThe public’s hunger for information about climate change has never been greater, yet the politicization of climate change has made it difficult to separate truth from fiction. 2015 is poised to become the warmest year on record, but it is important to remember that the instrumental record of climate is relatively short, spanning only a few decades in many regions. Over repeated visits to remote coral atolls in the tropical Pacific, Kim Cobb has assembled a record of climate from corals that spans many millennia. The results help to place current climate change trends in context.