According to a computational study conducted by a group of physicists at Washington University in St. Louis, one may create order by introducing disorder.
While working on their model – a network of interconnected pendulums, or “oscillators” – the researchers noticed that when driven by ordered forces the various pendulums behaved chaotically and swung out of sync like a group of intoxicated synchronized swimmers. This was unexpected – shouldn’t synchronized forces yield synchronized pendulums?
But then came the real surprise: When they introduced disorder – forces were applied at random to each oscillator – the system became ordered and synchronized.
“The thing that is counterintuitive is that when you introduce disorder into the system – when the [forces on the pendulums] act at random – the chaos that was present before disappears and there is order,” said Sebastian F. Brandt, Washington University physics graduate student in Arts & Sciences and lead author of the study, which appeared in the January 2006 edition of Physical Review Letters.
Insights into other realms
The physicists’ research is not only hard to grasp for non-physicists, but puzzling for physicists, too. As supervisor Ralf Wessel, Ph.D., Washington University associate professor of physics said, “Every physicist who hears this is surprised.”