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In traditional physics, the discipline of complexity may yield insights in certain areas. Thermodynamics treats systems on the average, while statistical mechanics deals in some detail with complex systems of atoms and molecules in random thermal motion. Yet there is organization, adaptation, and evolution in those complex systems. Non-equilibrium phenomena, such as heat transfer and phase changes, are characteristically complex in detail, and new approaches to them may evolve from complexity as a discipline. Crystal growth is another example of self-organization spontaneously emerging in a complex system. Alloys are also inherently complex mixtures that show certain simple characteristics implying some self-organization. The organization of iron atoms into magnetic domains as they cool is another. Perhaps insights into these difficult areas will emerge from complexity. But at the minimum, the discipline of complexity is another example of human effort to understand and organize the universe around us, partly rooted in the discipline of physics.

A predecessor to complexity is the topic of chaos, which has been widely publicized and has become a discipline of its own. It is also based partly in physics and treats broad classes of phenomena from many disciplines. Chaos is a word used to describe systems whose outcomes are extremely sensitive to initial conditions. The orbit of the planet Pluto, for example, may be chaotic in that it can change tremendously due to small interactions with other planets. This makes its long-term behavior impossible to predict with precision, just as we cannot tell precisely where a decaying Earth satellite will land or how many pieces it will break into. But the discipline of chaos has found ways to deal with such systems and has been applied to apparently unrelated systems. For example, the heartbeat of people with certain types of potentially lethal arrhythmias seems to be chaotic, and this knowledge may allow more sophisticated monitoring and recognition of the need for intervention.

Chaos is related to complexity. Some chaotic systems are also inherently complex; for example, vortices in a fluid as opposed to a double pendulum. Both are chaotic and not predictable in the same sense as other systems. But there can be organization in chaos and it can also be quantified. Examples of chaotic systems are beautiful fractal patterns such as in [link] . Some chaotic systems exhibit self-organization, a type of stable chaos. The orbits of the planets in our solar system, for example, may be chaotic (we are not certain yet). But they are definitely organized and systematic, with a simple formula describing the orbital radii of the first eight planets and the asteroid belt. Large-scale vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere are chaotic, but the Great Red Spot is a stable self-organization of rotational energy. (See [link] .) The Great Red Spot has been in existence for at least 400 years and is a complex self-adaptive system.

The emerging field of complexity, like the now almost traditional field of chaos, is partly rooted in physics. Both attempt to see similar systematics in a very broad range of phenomena and, hence, generate a better understanding of them. Time will tell what impact these fields have on more traditional areas of physics as well as on the other disciplines they relate to.

The computer-generated image shows a blue white red rainbow arc on top of which is a very complex two-fold symmetric pattern of what looks like bubbles interlaced with fine thread. The background below the arc is black, whereas above the bubbles-lace pattern the colors fade into a deep blue. The main feature of the bubble-lace pattern is a large black hole with very complex and self-similar features defining its edge. From the top of the black hole grows a progressively finer spiky tip that is mostly white. Smaller versions of this black hole are repeated symmetrically to the right and left of the main black hole.
This image is related to the Mandelbrot set, a complex mathematical form that is chaotic. The patterns are infinitely fine as you look closer and closer, and they indicate order in the presence of chaos. (credit: Gilberto Santa Rosa)
The picture shows what looks like a flowing orangish liquid into which some milk has been mixed. The main features are two eddies or vortices: a larger one that is a darker orange than the background and the other, smaller one, that is more milky than the background.
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is an example of self-organization in a complex and chaotic system. Smaller vortices in Jupiter’s atmosphere behave chaotically, but the triple-Earth-size spot is self-organized and stable for at least hundreds of years. (credit: NASA)

Section summary

  • Complexity is an emerging field, rooted primarily in physics, that considers complex adaptive systems and their evolution, including self-organization.
  • Complexity has applications in physics and many other disciplines, such as biological evolution.
  • Chaos is a field that studies systems whose properties depend extremely sensitively on some variables and whose evolution is impossible to predict.
  • Chaotic systems may be simple or complex.
  • Studies of chaos have led to methods for understanding and predicting certain chaotic behaviors.

Conceptual questions

Must a complex system be adaptive to be of interest in the field of complexity? Give an example to support your answer.

State a necessary condition for a system to be chaotic.

Questions & Answers

What fields keep nano created devices from performing or assimulating ? Magnetic fields ? Are do they assimilate ?
Stoney Reply
why we need to study biomolecules, molecular biology in nanotechnology?
Adin Reply
yes I'm doing my masters in nanotechnology, we are being studying all these domains as well..
what school?
biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
sciencedirect big data base
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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Source:  OpenStax, General physics i phy2201ca. OpenStax CNX. Jul 03, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11523/1.4
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