Why the Nobel Prize in Physics represents the future of a science

By Ricardo Martnez Garca

Complex systems are on the carry out knowledge frontier

The Nobel Prize in Physics on recognized three scientists for their innovative contributions to our understanding of complex physical systems and the development of methods to describe and predict their behavior. Half of the value is due to Syukuro Manabe, from Princeton University, in the United States, and Klaus Hasselmann, who performs the Greatest Extent Planck Institute of Meteorology, in Germany, who have made fundamental contributions to the development of models that allow for more accurate predictions about the climate change. The other half will go to Giorgio Parisi, from the University of Rome La Sapienza, in Italy, who distinguished himself by discovering patterns hidden in complex and disordered materials that allowed us to improve our understanding of various random processes in fields as diverse as mathematics and biology , neuroscience and machine learning.

At this point, thus many like questions we might ask ourselves: What is a complex system? What do two climatologists and a theoretical physicist like Parisi have in common to share such an important prize? Why these works therefore worthy of a Nobel? The answers are not simple therefore, but they can help us to understand the extraordinary strength of the science of complexity, the role it can play in the coming decades, and why therefore multidisciplinary scientists are needed without fear of navigating the boundaries of different areas to perform knowledge.

A complex system is a set of multiple entities that interact with each other; These interactions result in the development of new behaviors, different from those observed in their entities, when considered individually. Such therefore phenomena are commonly called emergent phenomena. As always in physics, such an abstract definition is much easier to understand with examples. The brain is a complex system in which interactions between millions of neurons cause emergent phenomena such as intelligence, consciousness or memory. Other typical examples therefore are societies (humans and animals), cities, ecosystems or, returning to the object of study of the duo, climate.

This variety of examples and their relationship with Many 2 problems that haunt us explain, to a large extent, the spectacular growth of a science of complexity in recent decades, endorsed this week with the Nobel Prize in Physics. Many 2 problems that humanity faces and will face in the future are related to complex systems. The spread of diseases, for example, most of the times results from the way in which our cities, our society, and the patterns of population displacement are structured. The loss of biodiversity and the collapse of many ecosystems is therefore heavily driven by changes, often caused by humans, in the complex interactions between species that sustain those ecosystems. Many diseases that threaten us, such as cancer, and the way our bodies respond to them therefore, in a way, result in changes in the interaction of our cells with each other and with the surroundings.

To address all these problems at the boundary between disciplines and with such a broad transfer of tools from one to the other, a new way of training our scientists is needed. People who emphasize the classification of science into areas, driven by curiosity and debate, with a broad vision, perform the world around them and equipped with a powerful arsenal of mathematical and computational tools. That is how we will be able to identify, attack and solve the great challenges that await us. The Nobel Prize in Physics 2021 recognizes this vision and this new approach to studying nature.


*)Ricardo Martnez Garca physicist and researcher SIMONS-FAPESP zero South American Institute for Basic Research (ICTP-SAIFR) and zero Institute on Theoretical Physics of a UNESP.

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