Using Physics to Find Peace


Researchers at Queens College are involved in a 10-year multidisciplinary project with Columbia University to uncover the scientific secrets to sustainable peace.

Now in year four, the scientists have published a paper in the New Journal of Physics that uses physics-inspired methods to analyze factors needed to create and maintain a peaceful society. The collaboration is based on the idea that peace is more than just a lack of violence. Researchers hope to eventually use their results to advise scholars and practitioners.

“We’re hoping that we can identify things that will help policymakers decide where best to intervene,” said Professor Larry Liebovitch of Queens College and The Graduate Center.

In previous years, the collaboration worked to identify factors involved in peace around the world. They collected many of these, including emotions about the past and the way a member of one group responds to positive actions by a member of another group. The researchers then created models to represent how those elements influence each other.

Now the researchers have translated this model into math, using ordinary differential equations. The analysis draws from the Queens researchers’ experience studying complex systems in physical and biological systems like galaxies, or the differentiation of stem cells. A mathematical model lets the scientists see which factors might have more influence in a situation, and how changing one factor might ripple out to affect the larger situation.

“The social scientists on this project have a qualitative picture of how different factors in society work together to sustain peace,” said Liebovitch. “What we’ve been doing is taking that picture and turning it into something quantitative.”

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