Baylor Lecture Series in Mathematics Hosts Mathematician with the Power to Levitate Frogs

Sept. 11, 2009

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Sir Michael Berry, Melville Wills Professor of Physics at the University of Bristol in England, will be visiting Baylor University from Sept. 15-18 and will present three lectures.

The events, which are free and open to the public, are a part of the third annual Baylor Lecture Series in Mathematics, which hosts national and international mathematicians who have provided contributions to the study of mathematics.

"I met Sir Berry in Palestine where we were both speakers together," said Dr. Lance Littlejohn, chair of department of mathematics at Baylor. "He has been a top physics expert for so many areas of mathematical concepts. We are so grateful to have one of the best lecturers come to Baylor."

Berry will present his first lecture "Making Light of Mathematics" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, in room D109 at the Baylor Sciences Building. He will explain through photography the connection of mathematical concepts such as fractals, knots and infinity with the illustrations of light, including rainbows, twinkling starlight, sparkling seas and oriental magic mirrors.

At 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 17, Berry will discuss "Three Recent Results on Asymptotics of Oscillations" in room 344 of the Sid Richardson Building on the Baylor campus.

Berry will present his final lecture "Two by Two" at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18, in room 344 of the Sid Richardson Building on the Baylor campus.

In 2000, Berry shared the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics with Andre Geim for their work on "The Physics of Flying Frogs." Berry and Geim discovered that everything, including wood, frogs and humans can be lifted by a magnet that is strong enough because of the electrical charge of electrons found in atoms.

"I would enthusiastically volunteer to be the first levitatee," Berry said in The Science of Harry Potter by Roger Highfield. "To be levitated in this way could be an interesting experience...more like the weightlessness experienced by astronauts in space. But there is a difference: the diamagnetism of the body is not quite uniform-tissues, bone, blood and so on have different magnetic properties-so we would feel slight pullings and pushes over the body. If the magnetic force on flesh is greater than that on bone, it would be as though we were held up by our flesh, with our bones hanging down-a bizarre reversal of the usual situation, and possibly the basis for an (expensive) type of face-lift."

Berry also is famous for the Berry Phase, a quantum mechanics and optics phenomenon. Some of his interests include asymptotic physics and quantum chaos. Berry has served as the editor for the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.

Berry received his bachelor's from the University of Exeter and his doctorate in theoretical physics from St. Andrews.

Among his honors, Berry was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London and was knighted in 1996. He has received the Julius Edgar Lilienfeld prize from the American Physical Society and the Paul Dirac medal and prize from the Institute of Physics.

Berry has given several lectures throughout the world, including the Rouse Ball and Dirac Memorial at Cambridge, the Loeb Lectures at Harvard and the Simons Foundation Distinguished Lecture at University of New York.

For more information about this event and the Baylor lecture series in mathematics, please visit Baylor Mathematics.

by Lillyan Baker, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

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