Monday, May 09, 2005

Computational Fest

The Berkeley-Stanford Computational Mechanics Fest took place this Saturday. Twelve professors, some from Stanford and some from Berkeley, spoke on numerical models of various problems in mechanics; the topics included things phenomenta such as sedimentation, ductile fracture, dislocation dynamics, granular flows, and anisotropic surface friction. I thought the talks were generally quite good. In fact, I was surprised that out of twelve talks there were none that I would consider snoozers. Because of overestimates of the attendance, there was a lot of food, and so I was well-fed as well as well-entertained. It was a good day.

I think my favorite talk was by Phil Marcus, who spoke about planet formation. Actually, he spoke about vortex formation in proto-planetary dust. The problem is interesting to astrophysicists because vortices provide one possible mechanism for the sort of clumping from which planets may be born. It's also interesting because a number of physical effects balance in ways we're not used to from our terrestrial experience. There were lots of pretty pictures of vortices going unstable and shedding gravity waves which launched other vortices; I've probably made a mistake in my summary, but at least the explanation was sufficiently within my background that I understood what I was seeing pictures of. Good stuff.