What makes materials flexible or rigid topic of first U50 math lecture

Michael Thorpe, foundation professor at Arizona State University, will give the first lecture in the Laboratory of Mathematical Parallel Systems (LAMPS) Colloquium Series on Mathematics & Interdisciplinary Science – "What Makes Materials Flexible or Rigid?"

There are seven public York U50 lectures planned for the Colloquium Series on Mathematics & Interdisciplinary Science, featuring leading experts in the field of mathematics and related multidisciplinary areas. The lectures are open to everyone.

The first lecture will take place March 20 from 2:30 to 3:30pm at the Senate Chamber, N940 Ross Building, Keele campus.

Left: Michael Thorpe

Thorpe, appointed to the Departments of Physics, Chemistry and Biochemistry and founding director of the Center for Biological Physics, will explore why some materials are more flexible than others.

“Many interesting phenomena occur in material structures that are poised between rigid and flexible,” says Thorpe. In his talk, he’ll describe the modern theory of rigidity and show how it can be used to analyze networks of constraints.

“These results can be used as input to geometrical simulation, where the various rigid parts of a system are moved, while maintaining all the constraints; both equalities and inequalities,” says Thorpe.

These are concepts that can be introduced to high school students by using Popsicle sticks and cotter pins to construct frameworks in a hands-on self discovery approach to learning. This same approach has been instrumental in developing new insights.

“On a research level, this approach has led to important insights in zeolites that are important for cracking petroleum, manganites that exhibit colossal magnetoresistance, and proteins and protein complexes, like viruses, where flexibility is often associated with function,” says Thorpe.

Previously, Thorpe had faculty appointments at Yale University and Michigan State University, where he was University Distinguished Professor. His research interests are in the theory of disordered systems, with a special emphasis on properties that are determined by geometry and topology. He has a research background in condensed matter theory, and in recent years has used the mathematical theory of flexibility and mobility in glassy networks, and also in crystalline materials with disorder.

His most recent work has been in biological physics working with proteins. Proteins are stable enough to maintain a three-dimensional structure, but flexible enough for biological function. Thorpe hopes to find underlying principles and unifying concepts to better understand the evolution and function of proteins and protein complexes.

The event is sponsored by the York U50 Committee, York’s Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Science, the Faculty of Science & Engineering, the Department of Mathematics & Statistics, Club InfinityThe Centre for Disease Modelling and LAMPS.

For more information, visit the U50 calendar of events or click here.