Mathematical adventures in geobiology: to be a rock and not to roll

Professor Murray Batchelor Professor Murray Batchelor

It is well appreciated in geology that the Earth writes its own history. For example, the fossilized remains of ancient stromatolites, a kind of layered rock formed by the activities of microbial communities over long time scales, provide clues to understanding the long-term evolution of the Earth’s environment. The fossil record reveals that stromatolites existed in a wide range of morphologies, including domes, organ pipes, perfect cones and delicate branched structures like modern day corals. 

In this special event, Professor Batchelor will explain what stromatolites are and how mathematical models have been used to understand their origin and formation. Along the way he will reflect on several field trips to outback Australia and most recently to the landscapes of China. In particular, how these field trips have inexorably led to the study of ooids, which roughly speaking, can be thought of as a spherical form of stromatolite. 

Ooids are millimetre-sized spheres made of concentric layers of mineralised microbes. Their origin and formation has been controversial. Professor Batchelor’s research has developed a model for ooid formation which has been inspired by a mathematical model for the growth of some brain tumours.

About the speaker

Professor Murray Batchelor is a mathematical physicist working primarily on deriving mathematical and physical properties of classical and quantum spin systems. His work has been recognized by the Pawsey Medal (1997) and the Australian Mathematical Society Medal (1998). He was promoted to Professor at ANU in 2001 and holds a joint appointment between the Mathematical Sciences Institute (MSI) and the Department of Theoretical Physics (RSPE).