Edward Lorenz, Father of Chaos Theory, Dies at 90

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Edward Lorenz, mathematician and meteorologist, passed away last week at the age of 90.  He was widely known for his groundbreaking work Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow, which crafted a framework for explaining why weather patterns behave in ways that cannot be described by classical dynamics and cannot be predicted more than a few days in advance.  He developed the idea of the Lorenz Attractor, a functional explanation for the potentially profound effect of small initial actions.  This became famously referred to as The Butterfly Effect.

The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly‘s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different. (Wikipedia)

From a GeekDad point of interest, yes- Lorenz’s work was the basis for Jeff Goldblum’s chaos-theorist character in the Jurassic Park movies.  But let’s not hold him at fault for that.  His work influenced science fiction in a profound way, and gave us all a new way of looking at the amazing complexity of the world around us.

Image from the American Institute of Physics.

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