Simplifying complex scientific calculations

Your zip software could calculate entropy as well as a supercomputer.


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Scientists at Tel Aviv University have recently discovered an easy and accessible solution for an issue that even supercomputers battle with measuring entropy.

In complex physical systems, the interaction of internal components is unavoidable, rendering entropy figuring a computationally demanding and frequently unfeasible task. The propensity of an appropriately collapsed protein to disentangle, for instance, can be anticipated using entropy calculations.

Scientists proposed an efficient way to calculate entropy, and interestingly it probably exists on your computer.

Prof. Roy Beck of TAU’s School of Physics and Astronomy said, “We discovered a way to calculate entropy using a standard compression algorithm like the zip software we all have on our computers. Supercomputers are used today to simulate the folding or misfolding of proteins in diseased states. Our study demonstrated that by using a standard compression algorithm, we could provide new insights into the physical properties of these proteins by calculating their entropy values using a compression algorithm.”

“Having the ability to calculate entropy meets an urgent need to harness the incredible power of computer simulations to address urgent, timely problems in science and medicine.”

“A high school student used our concept to calculate the entropy of a complex physical system — the XY model. Although this is considered a challenging problem with regard to entropy, the student accomplished it with very little guidance. This demonstrates how easily this method can be used by almost anybody to solve new problems.”

The idea emerged from the point of view of information theory. They wondered how well this idea might work in practice rather than in theory.

Prof. Beck said, “They simulated a few standard physical systems with entropy values they can compare to. Soon they found that the simulation data file size after compression rises and falls just as the expected entropy should. Shortly after that, they realized they could convert the compressed file size into a good value — the physical entropy. Surprisingly, the simple conversion they used was valid for all the systems studied.”

“Since we started working and talking about our work, we have been approached by many researchers from very different fields, asking us to help them calculate entropy from their data. For now, we are concentrating on the simulation of protein folding, a timely and urgent topic that can benefit tremendously from our discovery.”


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