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BYU Professor Adds Research to Newton-Old Science Problem


Along with Isaac Newton and other famous scientists, BYU professor Lennard Bakker is adding his research to help explain a classic scientific problem—the n-body problem.

The n-body problem focuses on objects’ motions as they interact with each other gravitationally. Bakker centered his research on the velocity an object would need in order to escape the gravitational pull of the masses around it.

Many researchers have studied this problem before, but with a limited number of bodies exerting gravitational forces. Bakker’s research allows the n-body problem to be applied to any number of masses.

“The techniques we use to get that minimal velocity [required to escape gravitational pull] is very different from the way the previous results have been proven,” Bakker said. “We can [input] 100 billion bodies moving in the plane and we can calculate that velocity of escape.”

Bakker and his PhD student Skyler Simmons decided to conduct this research because of another issue they faced while studying the n-body problem.

“No one ever looked at possibilities of things colliding at the center of mass while trying to launch the particle vertically,” Bakker said. “We allow collisions at the center of mass and we allow any number of bodies. . . . Most other research doesn’t do that.”

Bakker is excited about the benefits that his unique research approach can have in numerous different fields.

“Any new insight is big because the n-body problem is highly unsolvable in the classic techniques,” Bakker said.

Bakker’s research has practical application on both macro and micro levels. It can help determine the velocity an object needs to escape a galaxy or how fast a gas needs to be moving in order to escape the gravitational pull of the object ejecting it.

“We’ve opened a door to much larger numbers of bodies in terms of these types of investigations,” Bakker said. “There are lots of things now to explore with more than four bodies moving on the plane. . . .This can be done now.”