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Physicist blends science and art

By Pine Needle staff

Dr. Kevin E. Bassler succeeded in making Complexity Theory in physics understandable for the 70 plus guests at the Third Annual Robert K. Gustafson Memorial Scholar Series held in Moore Auditorium April 25. Dr. Bassler, associate professor of physics at the University of Houston, is engaged in studying complex systems to identify common behaviors among groups of interacting objects.

Dr. Kevin Bassler couples art and physics as Gustafson Scholar speaker.

Photo by University Relations
Dr. Kevin Bassler couples art and physics as Gustafson Scholar speaker.

Explaining high-level, cutting-edge physics concepts in easy-to-grasp language his entire audience could understand was a remarkable accomplishment. 

The audience ran the spectrum from undergraduate to honors students, humanities to physics faculty as well as University staff members.

Dr. Bassler's research, funded by the National Science Foundation and others, explores areas in Complexity Theory that have not yet been heavily researched, where, he explains, not as much is known, not as much is understood.

He and colleagues are discovering patterns of behavior among complex systems that, one day, can be models to study more familiar complexities such as river systems, traffic systems, financial systems or, possibly, to better understand galaxy formation.

For example, complicated braided patterns that result from statistically plotting data when enough current is applied to a superconductor are remarkably similar to a pattern a river makes when flooded.


"By comparing different complex systems, some common behavior can be observed," he explains. In complex systems, he says, "The whole is more than the sum of the individual parts."

That's also true, he says, about his photography. Dr. Bassler is current president of the Houston Center for Photography. He took time after the Gustafson lecture to explain some of the connections between his science and his nature photography to a class of photojournalism students in the Mass Communications Department.  "I enjoy my science equally as well as my art," he says.

"The whole of the image is more important than the sum of the individual parts," he says. Those few images he selects from the several hundred he shoots during an individual photography trip, he finds, are the ones that tie in this concept.

He says as a photographer he keeps his audience in mind. "At the end of the day," he says, "I want an image that someone will want to look at."

Dr. Bassler's photography was on display at a late afternoon reception in GPAC where he was available to answer questions. The Robert K. Gustafson Memorial Scholar Series is made possible by an endowment from the late professor's wife, Helen Gustafson. She attended the events. The University Honors College hosted the event.

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Updated: Thursday, May 11, 2006
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