Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"All together now," by Steve Nadis. Nature, 20 February 2003.

Nadis quotes mathematician Steven Strogatz (Cornell University) as declaring that "synchrony is one of the most pervasive phenomena in the Universe." The phenomenon was first documented in 1665 by Dutch physicist Christian Huygens: he noted how two pendulum clocks gradually adopted the same rhythm, regardless of their original state. Since then researchers and other have noted other examples---pedestrians make the London Millennium Bridge wobble, fireflies and crickets synchronize their flashes and chirps, and audiences clap in sync. Scientists in various disciplines have contributed to this field of research: Arthur Winfree, a theoretical biologist, studied coupled oscillators ("groups of interacting units whose individual behaviors are confined to repetitive cycles"); Yoshiki Kuramoto, a physicist, provided a simple model of this kind of system; and Strogatz and colleagues have "produced a mathematical description of an array of superconducting devices called Josephson junctions," which are intriguing to researchers across the scientific spectrum who are interested in synchronized systems. Strogatz is convinced that his research will help solve many problems in science that are related to complex, self-organizing systems in which vast numbers of components influence each other and interact simultaneously.

--- Annette Emerson