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The Sound of Science
WNIJ and NIU STEAM are partnering to create “The Sound of Science,” a weekly series explaining important science, technology, engineering and math concepts using sound. The feature will air at 1:04 p.m. Fridays as a lead-in to Science Friday.The Sound of Science is made possible by Ken Spears Construction

The Sound of Science - 'Chaos theory'

NIU STEAM
NIU STEAM

The Sound of Science - 'Chaos theory'

Welcome to The Sound of Science from WNIJ and NIU STEAM. It’s a weekly series explaining important STEM concepts. Today’s hosts are Jeremy Benson and Newt Likier.

You might have heard that a butterfly flapping its wings in one location can set off a natural disaster on the opposite side of the world. Or that a going back in time and making even a tiny change could completely alter the present. This is called the butterfly effect. But is it science fiction or science fact?

According to something called chaos theory, small changes within a complex system can trigger consequences with large and unpredictable impacts. My favorite example of this is that the film Jaws indirectly led to an increase in the number of shark incidents along the California coast.

The release of a movie about a killer shark caused wide-spread fear, which in turn caused an increase in shark hunting. The reduced number of sharks allowed the seal population to explode, and the seals spread out along the coast. When the shark population later recovered, they followed their food. More seals living near beaches where humans relax, and play means more sharks hunting near waters where humans are swimming.

We can also see examples right in our own backyard. You may have noticed in recent years that the visiting Canadian geese seem to stay longer each year. But what would keep them from migrating?

As the second-largest corn-growing state, Illinois is already responsible for approximately 15% of the country’s corn production. And farmers are growing more every year to meet increasing demands.

And with this much corn, there is an equally large amount of waste left behind after harvesting. The waste is often left in the fields to help revitalize the soil—which also makes for an easy food source for any foul fowls who haven’t flown the coop.

There are of course other factors too, and everything around us is a complicated web of causes and effects. And in that complicated of a system, even small changes can lead to noticeable impacts.

Chaos Theory tells us that even the smallest actions today have the power to affect the future in unexpected ways.

If there’s anything you want to learn about the world, submit your questions to niusteam@niu.edu.

This has been the Sound of Science on WNIJ. Where you learn something new every day.

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