Civil and Environmental Engineering 24, Section 1

Waves: Ideal, Real, and In Between (1 unit, P/NP)

Professor Evan Variano
Wednesday 12:00-1:00, 544 Davis Hall, Class number: 42666

Predicting sinusoidal wave motion has been one of the great successes of calculus and is a centerpiece of basic physics. However, many of the wave types observed in nature do not fit into this rather narrow mathematical description. This course will take a broad view of waves, exploring a wide variety of different wave types. Examples will be drawn from fields including biology, ecology, and physics, with a particular emphasis on the water waves encountered in environmental engineering. For each wave type we explore, we will consider the simplified mathematical models that try to capture the essence of the wave. We will explore the limits of these models and discuss the practical implications of making engineering decisions based on idealized models. The class will follow Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s armchair science book, “The Wave Watcher’s Companion,” with supplementary material presented in class to motivate and support group discussions.

Instructor Bio

Dr. Variano studies fluid motion in the environment, with a special focus on the air-water interface. As an innovator of laboratory techniques, he has found ways to directly observe fluid behavior in new and revealing ways. He uses his measurements to describe the underlying physical processes that control the motion of pollutants, nutrients, and plankton in the world’s oceans. The constant tension between observing the world in all its complexity and simplifying it for engineering purposes is what drives his research program; this tension is a central theme that we discuss in the seminar. Undergraduates contribute in significant ways to his research efforts, with several students joining the lab each year. He has also published a paper on best practices for integrating research experiences and classroom learning.

This seminar is part of the following programs

Food for Thought