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Scientific Background

The Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) at UCLA is the founding branch of a Multi-campus Research Unit now established on four other campuses (UCR, UCSD, UCI and UCSC) and at two of the national laboratories administered by the University of California (LANL and LLNL). From the time of its foundation in 1946, the Institute has pioneered the application of physics and chemistry to the Earth Sciences, as now taught in a large number of graduate and undergraduate programs across the nation. It is currently participating in similar revolutions bearing on the application of paleontology and microbiology to the study of the origin and evolution of life, the application of modern spacecraft, computing and visualization to the understanding of the Earth's space environment, the application of cutting-edge experimental and theoretical developments to the chemistry and physics of the interior structure of the Earth and planets, and last but not least Global Change studies, the application of the science of this turn of the century to the burning socio-economic problem of limits of growth.

The discovery of deterministic chaos by a meteorologist, Ed Lorenz, in 1963 plays the same paradigmatic role for the theory of complex systems as Einstein's discovery of relativity and of quanta in 1905 did for the evolution of physics in the first half of this century, and that of the double helix by Crick and Watson in 1953 for the progress of the life sciences in its second half. As humanity saturates the planet, it has to understand its macroscopic environment, formed of interacting systems atmosphere, ocean, land surface and biosphere whose combined complexity exceeds that of any system previously considered by the physical, life or social sciences. Global change studies, based on nonlinear dynamics, also known as chaos theory, are the science of this complex, interacting system. IGPP and other research units with whom we share faculty appointments are uniquely positioned to lead developments in this new science.

The study of self-organization in Earth's fault systems and of spatio-temporal complexity in plate tectonics, mantle convection, solar and planetary dynamo action, Solar System formation, and the structure of interplanetary magnetic fields are but a few areas of application of contemporary scientific thought to physics, chemistry and biology of Earth and its sister planets. The institute does and will continue to act as a catalyst in synergizing efforts to advance on this campus the new trend in the sciences towards a deeper understanding and prediction of macroscopic phenomena and to related these activities to practical problems of great economic, social and political concern.