Dr. Kevin Bassler
Department of Physics
Dean's Message
Physicist and Photographer
Newsletter Archive
by Noelle Heinze
As a scientist, Kevin Bassler studies nonlinear complex systems, looking for underlying order in apparently random data. As an artist, he photographs stunning landscapes, capturing nature’s complexity in a camera’s lens.
“Science is a very creative field, and what is nice about the art of photography is that it is also very scientific. In particular, there is a lot of physics in photography, it’s about optics, light, and timing,” says Bassler, an assistant professor of physics. “I enjoy being able to combine the two.”
Bassler’s research field is complexity theory. “I study what happens when you put a group of objects together that behave very simply on their own but collectively can have a variety of complex behavior,” he says. Recently, the prestigious science journal Nature published his research discovery regarding scale-free networks, which was a collaborative effort with Zolton Toroczkai of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
As he discusses complexity, the concepts he describes seem to transcend the science and are reflected in photographs on his office walls—dramatic landscapes caught by an artist’s eye, with color, light, and composition revealing simple elements underlying nature’s complex systems —spongy green moss sprawled across damp bark, snowy mountain peaks reflected in a crisp clear lake.
“A collection of pieces of nature together forms something that’s more than the individual pieces,” Bassler muses about the photographs, but he could be referring to the science, as well.
About six years ago, around the time he joined the UH faculty, Bassler seriously began taking photographs of the western American landscape. Since then, he has created a portfolio of breathtaking color images from Texas, many other western states, and Canada.
Click for Larger ViewIn addition to showing his work in several juried art shows and selling to private collectors, Bassler is President of the Houston Center for Photography, a nationally recognized educational and cultural organization whose mission is to deepen the understanding and appreciation of the photographic arts. At a recent auction benefiting the center, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston acquired one of his photographs for their permanent collection. The photograph shows a river fading off into an endless red canyon-land gorge, enveloped in a blue-hued light below storm clouds at sunset. It is a wonderful example of Bassler’s work—photographs that capture nature in a sublime display of brilliant colors, patterns, and textures.
Editor’s Note:
Bassler’s research is fascinating. He focuses on understanding the essence of the dynamics of nonequilibrium systems and of finding features common among seemingly unrelated behavior. He has related the movement of grains of sand in a sand pile to the movement of magnetic vortices (tornadoes of electrical current) in superconductors and to the flow of fluvial rivers. He has also studied processes of self-organization in complex networks, which have applications in topics ranging from biological evolution to the behavior of the stock market. His research is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. For more information about his research, please visit http://complex.phys.uh.edu/
© University of Houston 2005