Strange Nonchaotic Stars Topic of Next Faculty at Large Lecture

Professor of Physics John Lindner to speak on Nov. 17 at The College of Wooster

27 October, 2015 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — John Lindner, professor of physics and astronomy at The College of Wooster, will present “Strange Nonchaotic Stars” at the next Faculty at Large Lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 11 a.m. in Lean Lecture Room of Wishart Hall (303 E. University St.).

Lindner returned this fall from a sabbatical at the University of Hawaii, where he began to work with space telescope data that would invigorate the study of variable stars and spawn an international conference. “While the brightness of stars like the sun is nearly constant, the brightness of other stars changes with time,” says Lindner. “Exploiting the unprecedented capabilities of the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope, which stared at 150,000 stars for four years, my colleagues and I discovered evidence that certain stars dim and brighten in complex patterns with fractal features.”

Such stars pulsate at primary and secondary frequencies whose ratios are near the famous “golden mean,” the most irrational number, according to Lindner. “A nonlinear system driven by an irrational ratio of frequencies is generically attracted toward a ‘strange’ behavior that is geometrically fractal without displaying the ‘butterfly effect’ of chaos,” he says. “Strange nonchaotic attractors have been observed in laboratory experiments and may be useful in describing brain activity and climate, but a bluish white star 16,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Lyra may manifest the first strange nonchaotic attractor observed in the wild. The recognition of stellar strange nonchaotic dynamics may improve the classification of these stars and refine the physical modeling of their interiors.”

Lindner was born in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., and educated at the University of Vermont and Caltech. He joined the faculty at Wooster in 1988, and has enjoyed multiple yearlong sabbaticals at Georgia Tech, the University of Portland, and the University of Hawaii. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics, celestial mechanics, and variable stars. His work has been featured on the covers of the American Journal of Physics (twice), International Journal of Bifurcation and Chaos, Science News, Physics Today, and Nature, and on the annual calendar of the American Physical Society.

Wooster’s Faculty at Large lecture series continues next semester when Jeremy Rapport, assistant professor of religious studies, speaks on Feb. 2. Additional information is available by phone (330-263-2576) or e-mail.