University of Aveiro PhD student is awarded the Stimulus for Research prize

12/02/05

The research to be developed by João Gama Oliveira with the award will include two areas: the writing habits in Letters by Einstein (1879 – 1955) and Darwin (1809 – 82) and the occurrence frequency of numbers in the World Wide Web.

Although living in different historic periods, Darwin and Einstein were prolific correspondents, sending and receiving hundreds of letters each year. Both answered many of the letters they received, most of the times within 10 days, but sometimes with a two-year delay. Despite these fluctuations, their correspondence showed some order over a long time interval even when compared to the same patters of modern electronics communication. During his life, Darwin sent 7.591 letters and received 6.530; Einstein sent more than 14.500 letters and received more then 16.200 (with a decrease of the volume correspondence during the Second World War).

Before communication means like e-mail or fax, the scientific community was dealing with an extended universe of letters, the main medium used to exchange new ideas and results. But were the communication patterns in any way different from the current world of instant access, or was it just the means used that changed while retaining the same global communication dynamics? According to the record of the complete correspondence sent or received by both scientists, João Gama Oliveira proposes to obtain an answer to the question, after recent studies showed the existence of a complex pattern in case of electronic communication, where both the scheduled answer time to consecutive e-mails sent by someone and the time taken to answer follow a long tale distributions in the shape of power law, contrasting with the exponential distribution predicted by current human behaviour models based on Poisson processes. The correspondence by Darwin and Einstein are dynamic processes and take place in the individual complex arenas of their social and professional relationships. João Gama Oliveira's study thus has relevance for complex networking theory. He intends nonetheless to resort to file theory to model the temporal dynamics of the correspondence.

Besides this part of the research, this PhD student wants to get involved in the study of the occurrence frequency of numbers in the World Wide Web. The frequency with which the numbers appear in human documents is determined by two sets of factors. The first one includes natural aspects, from which the most important is the multiple scale organization of the world we live in. The second contains human origin factors, like the technological level of society, language structure, adopted schedules and number systems, history, cultural and religious traditions, psychology, and many more areas. Using the available search mechanisms, João Gama Oliveira obtained the occurrence frequency of entire numerals in the World Wide Web, the complex network composed by directional connections between existing documents in a virtual space. Though this study, which has been accepted for publication, has left some unanswered questions that João Gama Oliveira is searching for answers in the meantime.

João Gama de Oliveira, 26, graduated in Physics from the University of Oporto in 2002 and held research grants from the Porto Physics Centre (2002), the University of Aveiro (2002) and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (2003). He was a visiting researcher at University of Notre Dame (Indiana, USA) in 2004 and 2005. He is currently doing a PhD in Physics at the University of Aveiro and is an assistant lecturer of thermodynamics at the Department of Physics. He published an article in the October 27 edition of Nature about writing habits in Letters by Einstein and Darwin.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation instituted the ESTIMULO À INVESTIGAÇÃO Program with the goal of stimulating creativity and quality in research activity among young scientists. This program annually distinguishes research propositions of high quality in scientific areas of high potential and simultaneously supports its execution during the following year, in Portuguese Research Centres. The Gulbenkian Program ESTIMULO À INVESTIGAÇÃO grants financial support of €12.500 for the prize winners, divided into two parts: €2.500 for the researcher and €10.000 for the institution that supports the fees for the execution of the research during the ensuing year.

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