Posted on May 25, 2000

Richard F. Voss

Richard F. Voss, a pioneer in physics and a popular speaker on fractals, will speak on Thursday, May 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the F.W. Olin Center Auditorium at Union College.

The title of his talk, which is free and open to the public, is “Mountains, Clouds, and the Music of the Markets.”

Voss, a former researcher with IBM (where he was a colleague of Benoit Mandlebrot) teaches at Florida Atlantic University's Center for Complex Systems.

The intricate shapes and ever-changing patterns of the natural world have long been an inspiration and model of beauty to artists, writers, and musicians. Mathematics and science, on the other hand, are often viewed as cold, dry, and uninteresting. If they possess a beauty, it is of a perfect symmetry that is irrelevant to the real world: scientists could send a rocket to the moon, or predict the perfect symmetry of carbon atoms in a diamond, but they could not describe a mountain, write a formula for clouds, predict financial markets, or capture a melody.

The mathematics of fractal geometry and the science of chaos are now bridging the gaps between math, science, art, and culture. They treat the messiness of the everyday world. They are based on natural self-similarity (a small branch of a tree reminds one of the entire tree) and observations of complicated behavior from simple equations. They provide a new mathematical language for capturing, manipulating, and simulating nature.

The lecture will illustrate the descriptive and creative power of fractals and chaos through computer generated images, animation, sounds, and music. Examples of practical applications of fractals to economics, DNA sequences, early Chinese landscape paintings, and x-ray mammograms will be presented. The unity of building mountains and clouds from mathematics and generating music from the stock market will be demonstrated.

Voss, an internationally-recognized physicist and popular lecturer on fractals, has presented over 150 major invited lectures on fractal geometry and has published over 80 scientific articles.

Born in Minnesota, Voss received a B.S. degree from M.I.T, a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. For many years, he was a researcher at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center, where he collaborated closely with Mandelbrot (the “father” of fractals) and continued his research in condensed matter physics. His mastery of scientific computer graphics has been instrumental in the rapid acceptance of fractals as a useful language. His computer-generated images have appeared widely in numerous magazines, books, television shows, and IBM commercials.

In 1993 he was elected professor of applied physics at Yale University, where he taught a special undergraduate course on fractal geometry. In August 1995 he joined the Center for Complex Systems at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton with appointments as professor of physics and mathematics while continuing his association with IBM Research as a visiting scientist. His current research interests are applications of fractals and chaos to science and math education, financial time series, and medical imaging.