Ask Dr. L
Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher
In this section of the website, you have a chance to read Dr. L's answers to questions from the Jan 29, 2011 KTU interactive session.

Question: When you pick out a piece of a tree and blow it up, how does it look the same?
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Answer from Dr L:
Dr. LaubenbacherWhen you look at the slide from my talk with the tree and smaller parts of it magnified, you can see that they look similar. This is the concept of "self-similarity" I explained in my lecture. The tree is similar to parts of itself. What makes them similar is that the same rule is used over and over again as the tree grows, known as branching!

Tree
Tree
Look around the forest and find trees that are of different ages. The very young ones might just be a single straight shoot coming out of the ground. As it grows, it branches off into two branches, and then each of these branches again branches off, and so on. The very first branches created grow into the trunk and the biggest branches over several years. So, the older the branches are, the thicker they are, but the pattern that is formed by old and young branches is the same.


Question: Is it possible for chaos to exist without patterns or patterns to exist without chaos?
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Answer from Dr L:
As I discussed in my lecture, chaos is exactly the ABSENCE of patterns. The video I showed of what's called Brownian noise is an example of chaos. In this video you can see smoke particles moving around through the air. They are moving in all kinds of directions and change direction when they bump into each other. If you watch the movie for a while you will see that there are no patterns to be recognized. So, your question has two answers: chaos is FORCED to exist without patterns. And if there are patterns somewhere, this EXCLUDES chaos.


Question: Can anyone get the Espein Barr Virus? How do you get rid of it?
From: Neha
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Answer from Dr L:
Yes, anybody can become infected with the Epstein-Barr virus. A common way for small children to get infected is by putting toys and other things in their mouth that were used the same way by an already infected child. Once infected by this virus, there is no known way to get rid of it. In fact, the research project I talked about had the goal of finding out how the virus can hide from the immune system. We found out that this might happen by somehow hiding in cells that circulate in the blood. If the virus can only stay in the lymph nodes, the other place where it likes to hang out, then the immune system will eventually find it and kill it. But there is a lot of work to be done. Maybe if you become a scientist you can work on this problem.


Question: If patterns are everywhere why can’t we really notice all of them?
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Answer from Dr L:
Some of the pattern that exist, either in nature or in things we make, are very difficult to see and it takes a lot of training. For example, secret codes are based on patterns that are very difficult to detect. Take for example the string of letters:
LSVSPDLT
Do you see a pattern in it? If not, here is a hint: try rearranging letters in a systematic way!

The National Security Agency, a large government agency, has the job of breaking all kinds of secret codes that are used to disguise communications by foreign governments, for example. It employs thousands of mathematicians who are the best professional pattern hunters, to find patterns that have been used to create secret codes.


Question: How do blood cells know how to get the viruses?
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Answer from Dr L:
Our white blood cells who have the job of fighting viruses and other dangerous microorganisms can detect chemical patterns that are present when microorganisms such as viruses have us. They can sense individual molecules of certain proteins that viruses produce and can follow the direction from which they are coming.


Question: Can you change a pattern that’s already been changed? Such as cancer cells could you change them back to they’re original state?
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Answer from Dr L:
This is an excellent question. Some part of cancer research is exactly focused on the question of how to change a cancer pattern in cells back to a normal pattern. For this it is important to understand what it is that changed the pattern in the first place, that is, what is it that caused a cell to become cancerous. Another type of pattern that scientists are studying is the weather. What are the weather patterns that caused the terrible tornadoes that we just experienced in the South? And how are these patterns different from "ordinary" weather patterns? Is there something we can do to change the patterns back. These are important research problems that need smart people to study them.
You can be one of those in the future.


Question: How do you find patterns? How is the Game of Life life? Do patterns relate to physics and how?
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Answer from Dr L:
Finding patterns is sometimes very difficult. We need to look at things very carefully for a long time, and we need to understand all the things that contribute to the creation of patterns.

The "Game of Life" is a very simplified model of what happens in real life. If you look at the growth of forests, for instance the rain forest in South America, you see that if you cut down large parts of the forest, so that there is not a large enough continuous area of forest, then the small pieces tend to die out. Different species of animals need to have a large area in which they can roam to continue to live in large numbers. On the other hand, if a population of animals becomes too crowded, they tend to develop diseases and start to run out of food. The Game of Life rules are designed to mimic these conditions.

Patterns in physics are often very beautiful and very important. For instance, there are many different patterns in snow flakes. The formation of galaxies and the formation of the universe as a whole are based on very complicated patterns that are being studied by many physicists. There are still many things to learn about the patterns of physics, and you too can become one of the scientists that study them.


Question: How come the cells are four sided in the game of life?
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Answer from Dr L:
The cells in the game of life need to fill the space completely, without gaps in between. And people like them to be somehow symmetrical, so that each cell has the same number of neighbors. This is what is called a "regular tesselation" of the plane. You might want to read up on these at Wikipedia or some other place. It turns out that the only way you can do this is by using either triangles, squares, or hexagons (shapes with six equal sides). So one could build a Game of Life with either of these shapes. Another version of this is a Game of Life that uses all 8 neighbors of a cells, including the four that touch the cell at each of the corners.


Question: How hard is it to create a complex pattern without a computer?
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Answer from Dr L:
It is easy to build complex patterns without a computer. For instance, it is easy to construct secret codes "by hand" that are very difficult to break.

In one of my earlier answers I talked about this. An example of this is the so-called Enigma machine, that was used during World War II last century to encrypt messages. You might want to read up on the Enigma machine on the web.


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