The 'theory of complex systems' and how it earned a Nobel Prize for physicist, Giorgio Parisi

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The 73-year-old Italian physicist, Giorgio Parisi is one of the three winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics.
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Tuesday, October 5, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists for their work relating to studying the climate. One of the winners, the 73-year-old Italian scientist Giorgio Parisi, was honored for his contribution to the theory of complex physical systems. But what is this scientific concept and what role does it play in understanding the climate?

After publishing a thesis on the Higgs Boson in the 1970s, the Italian physicist Giorgio Parisi specialized in the research of complex physical systems, particularly static physics and fundamental particles.

"Around 1980, Giorgio Parisi discovered hidden patterns in disordered complex materials. His discoveries are among the most important contributions to the theory of complex systems. They make it possible to understand and describe many different and apparently entirely random materials and phenomena, not only in physics but also in other, very different areas, such as mathematics, biology, neuroscience and machine learning," explains a news release from The Nobel Foundation.

In short, Giorgio Parisi has contributed to the development of models and tools aimed at better predicting the behavior of chaotic systems, which by definition are difficult to predict. One of the Italian Nobel Prize winner's best-known subjects of study is that of starling flight , analyzing how birds move in flocks to determine the extent to which fluctuations in the speed of individual birds are correlated.

But it is for systems helping to understand the climate that the physicist has been honored. More precisely, "for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales," explains the Nobel Prize website.

Enzo Marinari, a physicist at Sapienza University of Rome, who has co-authored over 100 scientific papers with Giorgio Parisi, told the journal Nature : "Parisi has developed a paradigm that goes beyond condensed matter. His theories can be applied at all scales: glass, the brain, finance, the flight of birds, glaciers and much more."

The other two winners of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics are 90-year-old American-Japanese scientist Syukuro Manabe and 89-year-old German scientist Klaus Hasselmann, rewarded for their work on the physical modeling of climate change. Such a prestigious honor seems particularly fitting at a time when the alarm is being sounded louder than ever over the climate emergency.

Léa Drouelle

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