(Phys.org) —A 350-year-old mathematical mystery could lead toward a better understanding of medical conditions like epilepsy or even the behavior of predator-prey systems in the wild, University of Pittsburgh researchers report.The mystery dates back to 1665, when Dutch mathematician, astronomer, and physicist Christiaan Huygens, inventor of the pendulum clock, first observed that two pendulum clocks mounted together could swing in opposite directions. The cause was tiny vibrations in the beam caused by both clocks, affecting their motions.
The effect, now referred to by scientists as "indirect coupling," was not mathematically analyzed until nearly 350 years later, and deriving a formula that explains it remains a challenge to mathematicians still. Now, Pitt professors apply this principle to measure the interaction of "units"—such as neurons, for example—that turn "off" and "on" repeatedly. Their findings are highlighted in the latest issue of Physical Review Letters.