This course provides an introduction to the study of environmental phenomena that exhibit both organized structure and wide variability--i.e., complexity. Through focused study of a variety of physical, biological, and chemical problems in conjunction with theoretical models, students learn a series of lessons with wide applicability to understanding the structure and organization of the natural world. Students also learn how to construct minimal mathematical, physical, and computational models that provide informative answers to precise questions. Open to both undergraduate and graduate students.
This undergraduate course provides students with an understanding of the mechanisms that underly the organization of the natural environment. It also introduces students to methods of quantitative analysis that are useful for investigating how any system works. The course teaches students how to identify fundamental phenomena, how to formulate theoretical models, and how to quantitatively test models by comparison to observations. A secondary but no less important objective is to provide students with a unified view of environmental science by emphasizing aspects of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences that collectively act to create the natural environment, both physical and biological. Offered jointly by the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and the Department of Mathematics.
Past courses of note
This undergraduate course provides an introduction to the theory and phenomenology of nonlinear dynamics and chaos. Offered first by the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences in 1989, and later jointly with the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The course continues to be taught by others, and remains popular. Course materials, including detailed lecture notes, are available through MIT's Open Courseware.
12.517 Dynamics of Complex Systems
From 1999-2005, this course considered a variety of topics in seminar format. The reading lists have proved popular. Some entries below link to OCW. The others link to old web pages with some broken links, but a detailed bibliography can always be found.
2005: Biological and environmental coevolution preceding the Cambrian explosion.
2004: Great biogeochemical events: Origin and dynamics.
2003: Evolution of biogeochemical cycles.
2002: Pattern and form in geology and geobiology.
2001: Ecological theory.
2000: Complexity in ecology.
1999: Natural networks.