I’m taking a class this semester called non-linear dynamics and chaos. Dynamics, for those of you innocent folks, is basically the study of systems that evolve or change with time. Basically, the world isn’t always all neatly linear as we were taught in school. You remember ‘linear’—y=mx+b, the straight line. From physics to biology, we can model the long-term behavior of situations with differential equations (or basically equations containing derivatives, or rates of change).

For instance, male fireflies in Southeast Asia get together at night and flash in unison. The ladies come around and pick out the most handsome light. We model the behavior of the fireflies with a fairly nice one-dimensional, first order, non-linear differential equation. Don’t worry, we won’t do the math here. Check out this youtube video about it (the speaker is the author of my textbook). You just might be convinced this stuff is as cool as I think it is.