Nigel Goldenfeld's Group






In the news


Apply to join Nigel's group


Welcome to Nigel Goldenfeld's Group's web site, part of the Institute for Condensed Matter Theory in the Physics Department at the University of Illinois. Nigel is a member of the Center for the Physics of Living Cells, and leads the Biocomplexity Group at the university's Institute for Genomic Biology. Nigel directs the NASA Astrobiology Institute for Universal Biology.

We mainly study how patterns evolve in time, be they snowflakes, the microstructures of materials, the turbulent flow of fluids, geological formations, ecological patterns, the spatial organisation of microbes or even the behavior of genes. The scope of our work covers mainstream condensed matter physics, materials science, quantitative biology, ecology, evolution applied mathematics and nonequilibrium statistical mechanics.

We especially focus on emergent states of matter: the new laws of physics that arise in a system, due to the collective behaviour of its parts (atoms or organisms). Superconductivity is one example; the complexity of living organisms and ecosystems is another. The problem of turbulence is one of the most perplexing emergent states of matter, and we have contributed to understanding the nature of the phase transition between laminar and turbulent flows, discovered new scaling laws in semi- and fully-developed turbulence, and performed theoretical and experimental work that has established how small scale velocity fluctuations influence macroscopic flow properties.

The most interesting example of an emergent state of matter is the phenomenon of life itself. We work extensively to understand living systems. Among many separate efforts, we are currently engaged in a NASA-funded multi-institution, multidisciplinary effort to explore the how extant living organisms reveal fundamental and universal principles of life, and to understand better the evolution of life prior to the Last Universal Common Ancestor, over 3.8 billion years ago.

A non-technical description of our work in biocomplexity and the origin of life can be found here.

Here is a slightly expanded version of our manifesto "Biology's next revolution", which appeared in Nature 25 January 2007. Some of our work has generated memorable images that have appeared on journal covers, as shown below.

A non-technical description of our research into geophysical pattern formation and microbial ecology at Yellowstone National Park can be found here. The Yellowstone time-lapse movie download page is here.

A non-technical description of our research into fully-developed turbulence in pipes and in two-dimensional soap films is here.

Back to Physics Department Web Page

Funding Agency Disclaimer

simple_bar.gif (1835 bytes)