06 December 2010

The physics behind Scotland’s coastline explored

How the laws of mathematics and physics can be applied to the natural world around us will be subject of free event
How the laws of mathematics and physics can be applied to the natural world around us will be subject of free event

What is the exact length of Scotland’s coastline? An Aberdeen physicist will give the answer to this and many more intriguing questions at a free event in Fraserburgh next week.

Dr Marco Thiel from the University of Aberdeen’s Department of Physics will outline how the laws of mathematics and physics can be applied to the natural world around us.

Why the intricate shape of our country’s coastline makes it impossible for us ever to measure its length precisely, will be just one example explained by Dr Thiel in his talk, which takes place on Monday December 13 at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.

Dr Thiel said: “We are all familiar with simple shapes such as cubes and pyramids, but when we look at the natural world around us the shapes of objects we find do not fit into such straightforward categories.

“A tree or a snowflake, for example, could not be described with a traditional shape, but it is much more complex.

“In my talk I will look at the way mathematicians and physicists look at these complexities in nature.

“One particular example I will focus on will be the coastline of our country, explaining how it is actually impossible to give a precise measurement for its length. This is because it entirely depends on how close a look we take at the coastline and what we are using to take the measurement.

“If we were to take a view of the coastline from Google maps we would not be able to see all the different intricacies of its outline - all the very small wiggles which it encompasses – so our measurement would be shorter.

“In the same way, if we were to actually walk around the coastline using a small implement such as a ruler we would be able to measure each of its minute curves much more accurately than if we were, for example, using a yardstick.”

Dr Thiel’s talk – entitled How Long is Scotland’s Coastline? - is the final event in the University of Aberdeen’s new Café Light series which provides a relaxed public forum for the discussion of scientific topics.

The event begins at 12.30pm in the café area of the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses.

It is free to attend and advance booking is not required.

Visitors to the Café Light event will also receive discounted admission to the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses on the day.

For more information on the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses visit: www.lighthousemuseum.org.uk/

Café Lightis supported by the Scottish Government through a Science Engagement Award.

Notes for Editors

Issued by the Communications Team
Office of External Affairs, University of Aberdeen, King's College, Aberdeen
Tel: +44 (0)1224 272014

Contact: Kelly Potts
Issued on: 06 December 2010
Ref: 426COAST


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